The Toughest Sport on Dirt, they say.
Bull riding is the rodeo event in which a bull rider attempts to stay squared and atop the bull for at least 8 seconds, while the bull tries his damndest to buck free. The rider ties in (well, more like 'wraps in') one hand to the bull's back, just behind the uppermost part of his shoulders using a bull rope. The riding technique can get/is fairly technical (and depending which cowboy you're talking to, often quickly becomes metaphorical and philisophical!). That's what's so great about it though. It is a risky sport and has often been called "the most dangerous eight seconds in sports."
Each bull has a unique name and number used to identify it. A qualified number of bulls, each judged to be of good strength, health, agility, and age are selected to perform. The rider and bull are matched randomly before the competition, although now, top ranked riders, like those in the PBR, are allowed to choose their own bulls from a draft for selected rounds in PBR events, for example.
The cowoys mount a bull in the chute and grips and wraps around his wrist, a flat braided rope. After securing a solid grip on the rope and good forward seat on the bull, the cowboy nods to signal he is ready. Bull riders don't orally signal that they're ready to go - it can easily disturb the bull and potentially ruin the chute exit. The bucking chute (a contained enclosure which opens from the side) is opened from the other side and the bull storms out into the arena. The rider attempts to ride the bull, with style, for at least eight seconds, while only touching the bull with his riding hand. His other hand must remain free for the duration of the ride.
The bull bucks, rears, kicks, bellyrolls, spins, and twists to throw the rider; a buzzer announces the completion of an eight second ride. Throughout the ride, bull fighters move about the bull in an effort to influence its movements and enhance the ride. When the ride ends, either intentionally or not, the bull fighters move in to distract the bull and protect the rider from harm. Bull fighters are beloved friends and the unsung heroes to the cowboys.
A lot of competitions have structures that involve multiple rounds (of riding), called the "Go-rounds." Generally, events span two to three nights. Riders are given a chance to ride one bull per night. The total points scored by the end of the event are recorded, and after the first or first two go rounds, the top 20 riders are given a chance to ride one more bull. This final round is called the "Short Go". After the end of the short go, the rider with the most total points wins the event.
Points and Scoring
The ride is scored from 0-100 points; 50 points for the bull's performance and 50 points for the rider's performance. This means that both the rider and the bull are awarded points. There are usually two judges. The combined point totals from both judges make up the final score for the ride. Scores of zero are quite common as a lot of riders lose control of the animal almost immediately after the bull rages out of the bucking chute. Many experienced professionals are able to gain scores of 75 or more. A score above 80 is considered excellent, and a score in the 90s exceptional.
Judges award points based on several key aspects of the ride. Judges look for constant control and rhythm in the rider in matching his movements with the bull. Points are usually deducted if a rider is constantly off-balance. For points to actually be awarded the rider must stay mounted for a minimum of 8 seconds, and is only scored for his actions during those 8 seconds. The ability to control the bull well allows riders to gain extra "style" points. These are often gained by spurring the animal. And a rider can be disqualified if he/she touches the bull, the rope, or him/her with their free arm.
One differentiating move that a bull might try, as opposed to a bucking horse, is what's called a belly roll or "Sunfishing". This is when a bull is completely off the ground and kicks either his hind feet or all four feet to the side in a twisting, rolling motion. They also are more likely to spin in tight, quick circles. Bulls are less likely to run or to jump extremely high and "break in two" than horses.
Judges look at the bull's overall agility, power and speed, its back end kicks and front end drops. Simply put, if a bull gives a rider a very hard time, more points will be awarded. If a rider fails to stay mounted for at least 8 seconds the bull is still awarded points.The PBR and the PRCA record a bull's past scores so that the best bulls can be brought to the finals. This ensures that riders will be given a chance to score highly. The PBR also awards one bull the "Bucking Bull of the Year" award, decided by scores and the number of riders it has bucked off. The awards brings a lot of prestige to the ranch at which the bull was raised.
If the score is low due to poor bull performance, the judges may offer the rider the option of a re-ride. By taking the option, the rider gives up the score received, waits until all other riders have ridden, and rides again. This can be risky because the rider loses his score and risks bucking off and receiving no score. A re-ride might be given if a bull stumbles out of the chute or runs into the fence or something similar.