How to Ride a Bull

Three Parts:TrainingStaying On the BullGetting High Scores

The most dangerous 8 seconds in sports. If you want to test your mettle against a snorting, bucking, angry bull, you need to learn how to train properly. That means getting experience riding the buck, becoming familiar with the bull, and--most importantly--knowing how to hang on. With ancient roots in Greek culture, it's safe to say men have been compelled to ride bulls as long as ranches and horse riding have existed. It's an experience and a thrill like no other. See Step 1 for more information.

Part 1

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    Apprentice to an experienced bull-rider to learn the tricks of the trade. Though a single bull-ride takes all of 8 seconds, bull-riding takes years of practice and guidance from an experienced rider who'll show you the ropes. Aside from gaining access to bulls and the people who keep them, riding bulls requires that you develop proper riding technique and touch on your animal, something that you won't be able to learn overnight. Just as you would for any sport or trade, get a coach you can work with and who'll be excited to teach you.
    • Bull-riding trade magazines are widely available at rural outlets and feed stores, advertising a wide variety of open competitions, coaching options, and clinics with experienced pro riders if you want to learn the basics.
    • Bull-riding has historical roots in equestrian competitions between Mexican ranch hands, contests called charreada that tested a variety of overall skills.[1] Now the sport is more professionalized, and the primary governing bodies in the US are the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) and Championship Bull Riding (CBR).
    • Born to Buck programs are widely available for youth who are interested in learning to ride bulls. Bull breeders hold open events to help interested parties get some experience on hot-bred animals. At the very least, you can learn if you've got the onions for it.[2]
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    Get comfortable riding a horse bareback. Learning to get comfortable on an animal with a relatively flat back will help you immensely if your ultimate goal is to ride bulls.[3] Learn how to shift your weight and grip with your legs, riding an animal that isn't actively angry and trying to get you off. Building core riding skills is an essential first step in riding bulls.
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    Wear the basic gear. While there's little required of the bull-rider in terms of gear, you'd stand out (and wouldn't be permitted to participate in most competitive rodeos) if you weren't in basic cowboy gear. This includes jeans, button-up western shirts, and heeled cowboy boots, generally topped with the iconic cowboy hat.
    • Bull-riders always wear a protective leather glove and a braided bull-rope that wraps around the bull to hold on to. Pick a glove that's thin enough to grip tightly, allowing you flexibility in your grip, but also thick enough to offer some protection. The rope is generally treated with resin, which helps with the grip when it gets heated up.
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    Consider more protective gear. In competition, protective helmets and other gear aren't mandatory at most arenas, though are gaining popularity, especially in training and practice. Some bull-riders will wear a protective helmet, similar to a bicycle or motorcycle helmet, as well as a heavy vest to protect the internal organs.
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    Develop your upper and lower body strength. A good ride requires great balance and coordination, as well as the brute strength required to hold onto a bucking bull that outweighs you by a thousand pounds. Bull-riding training will include a great deal of basic upper body and core work outs, as well as leg-building exercise like squats.
    • Working out your arms with bicep curls will help develop the proper strength motion in your holding arm.
    • Developing a routine of squats will help build the leg strength necessary to grip the bull and hold on for dear life.

Part 2
Staying On the Bull

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    Get familiar with your bull. A commonly-overlooked step in the bull-ride is getting somewhat familiar with the bull you're going to be sitting on top of. Spend a few minutes watching the bull in its pen, getting a sense of his aggression and tendencies. Watch the bull when he's ridden by other riders. Most bulls buck in one of two ways: head-down spinners and straight-ahead buckers.
    • If your bull puts his head down and turns upon leaving the gate, you'll know to shift your weight slightly and prepare for a tilt-a-whirl ride.
    • If your bull tends to head in a straight line, you can prepare for a more north-south type of bucking action and prepare yourself accordingly.
    • A common misconception is that bulls' testicles are bound to get them to buck. Their flank is bound gently to get them to kick their back legs higher, but their testicles are not touched or harmed in any way. Mostly they're bred to buck that way.
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    Hold your grip correctly. When you're mounting the bull, get an experienced bull-rider to show you how to wrap your hand in the bull rope and get a solid grip. Generally, bull-riders grip underhand with their dominant (or writing hand), though some other grip techniques are becoming more popular. Let a helper pull your rope tight and wrap the rope once around the part of your hand that is closest to you.
    • For a basic grip, place your riding hand in your rope with the back side of your hand down. Your pinkie should be right next to the bull's backbone.
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    Sit correctly. Ease up to where you are nearly sitting on your hand. Make sure you stay that way for the entire ride and sit up off your butt. All of your weight will be on the inside of your thighs. Lean forward so that your chest is over the bull's shoulders.
    • When you mount, hold on to each side of the chute and ease your toes down on the bull's back and slide them down his side. Do not touch him with your spurs until you are ready to ride.
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    Be calm and focus on the task at hand. Some bull-riders will say that the most difficult part of the ride happens when you're still in the chute, waiting. At some point, when you're sitting there on top of a monstrous-big bull who's huffing and angry that he's got an uncomfortable flank strap tied on to him, it might occur to you that this is a bad idea.[4] Stay focused and think about the motions and the balance that you need to achieves, not the animal. It'll be over soon!
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    Hold on. As the bull's front feet come off the ground lean forward while squeezing with your legs and maintaining a tight grip on your rope with your riding hand, which acts as your center of balance on the animal. Keep your hips centered and square. When the bull starts to come down from the jump, push your hips to your rope and lift with your riding hand.
    • Try to stay as close to the center of the bull's back as possible. Miscalculating your balance and shifting even a couple of inches will have you eating dirt in a second or two. Focus on your core balance, created with your grip and your hips.
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    Control your free arm. Many novice riders move their free arm too much, as if they were doing some kind of cowboy dance. While it's true you can use your arm to offer some counterbalance, it's probably the least important part of the ride.
    • Watch pros closely. You'll notice, for the most part, that their free arm is fairly static. That's because most of the balance and the control they're getting is in the hips and the grip. Focus on those things and on keeping your free arm out of the way.
    • If you inadvertently slap the bull with your free arm at any point during the ride, you won't receive a score. It's important to keep control of your arm, while also letting it counter-balance and "rudder" yourself on the animal.
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    Get out of the way. You're not going to stay on the bull for much longer than a few seconds, so learning to get safely away from the bull and landing without seriously injuring yourself is a critical part of the riding process.
    • To dismount, wait for the bull to kick and then look over your riding arm (the one your hanging on with) and throw your opposite leg over the bull's head.
    • Try your best to land on your hands and feet, then run to the gate that's closest to you. Stop and look to see where your bull is, then go grab your rope to get clear.

Part 3
Getting High Scores

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    Understand how scoring works. You'll only receive a score if you stay on the bull for at least 8 seconds. The time ends when either your free hand touches the bull or you feet touch the ground and starts as soon as the bull's shoulder passes the gate. The rider and bull are both given scores for their performance, which are tallied together to give the overall score.[5]
    • The bull is judged primarily on his difficulty. Judges look for the depth of the bull's drops, the height of his kicks, the directional changes, and the speed of his spins to determine a score.
    • The rider is judged primarily on the skill with which he controls the bull, anticipates the directional changes, and gracefully maneuvers and dominates the animal.
    • Rider and bull are given a score between 1 and 25, which are added together to give either a score out of a possible 100 or divided in half to give a score out of 50.
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    Ride the buck, don't ride the bull. Experienced and skilled bull riders are, in some ways, more like surfers than like wrestlers. It's not so much a test of animal wrangling as it is an ability to feel out the animal's movements and bucking pattern.
    • In general, thinking less and feeling more will allow you to ride the buck more effectively. The only way to do this is to practice like a demon. Ride bulls and stay healthy.
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    "Lose your feet, lose your seat." This is sometimes called the bull-rider's mantra. It serves to remind you that most of the control and balance you'll achieve while on the animal comes from your lower body, gripping the bulk of the bull with your thighs and feet, spurring if necessary to control the bull's aggression. Without doing this, you're going to end up with a dirt lunch. Commit it to memory, both mind and muscle.
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    Stay on as long as possible. Simply put, the longer you stay on, the better your score will be. 8 seconds is a lot longer than it seems, so learning to channel all of your attention and strength into an extremely short period of time is the biggest challenge to the rider.
    • Practice increasing the length of your rides and getting comfortable negotiating different bulls. Some riders suggest practicing on north-south type buckers before graduating to spinners, which are more unpredictable and difficult to ride. Once you've dominated them, give the spinners a chance.


  • Your free arm is not just up in the air for show, use it to maintain balance. You don't want to let it swing to far one way or the other. Doing that will cause you to twist your hips and you will be bucked off almost every time.
  • When you hit the ground get up and run for the fence because he is more than likely coming after you!
  • Once you have left the chute you want to keep your butt off his back, and keep your shoulders parallel to his. Your spurs are a tool. Use them to keep your seat on his back.
  • Make sure you tail on your bull rope is rosined, should be sticky for better hold.
  • Also, if you're a beginner at bull riding, try going to a practice pen in your area. The stock owner/contractor should be there, & the person who runs the rides & which round you go into. Ask them to size you up for a bull & have them get you one that you can learn on, not a rank bull who's gonna throw you off in one second. This will help you learn & practice how to bull ride. Safe riding.


  • There is risk of getting hurt when jumping off or getting bucked off the bull. He will go after you, so getting up and getting the heck out of there is very important!

Things You'll Need

  • Bull rope
  • Proper fitting riding vest
  • Leather chaps (optional but protects from scrapes and bruises a little more)
  • Proper fitting riding glove
  • Bull riding spurs with fixed rowels
  • Riding helmet with mask (just to be safe)
  • Rock and powder rosin
  • Leather straps

Article Info

Categories: Cattle | Individual Sports