Bull Riding: Tips for Scoring Points, with Bonus Video
Bull riding is a real adrenaline rush, not only for the rider, but also for the audience. You just never know what’s going to happen as the cowboy tries to hang onto a jumping, lunging, twisting bovine that can weigh over 1,500 pounds. That’s a lot of power and anger, and the rider has to hang onto that bucking brute for a full eight seconds to get a score. Only eight seconds? It seems more like an eternity.
Why would anyone subject himself to such danger willingly and eagerly? For some cowpokes, it’s the money. Some of the cash prizes the winners receive are amazing. For others, they’re after that shiny belt buckle that serves as a testament to their courage and skill. Still others do it for the sheer joy and competition – not only the competition against the other bull riders, but also the man versus beast competition. Every bull rider worth his salt does everything he can to outscore his opponents and to “defeat” the bull. Staying on the bull for the required eight seconds is only part of the equation. Riders aren’t just judged on how long they ride; they’re also judged on how they ride. Furthermore, the bull is scored on his performance, too.
A bull riding event uses two judges. Each judge has a different vantage point from which to view the ride. Each gives the cowboy from 1-25 points, for a total of 50 points. The rider is rated on his style, his movement, and how he keeps rhythm with the bull. To get a top score, the cowboy must stay in perfect rhythm with the bull and make it obvious to the judges that he is anticipating the bucking animal’s next move.
The rider can also get style points added to his score by eagerly spurring the bull. To make the spurring more effective, most cowboys wear chaps. They not only help protect the rider’s legs, they also add to the appearance of the cowboy’s movements, enhancing the spurring action.
All this must be done while hanging onto the bucking rope with one hand. If the rider touches the bull or himself with his free hand, he’s disqualified. The free hand has to be kept high in the air. Experienced bull riders are able to use that free hand and arm to help them keep their balance and their rhythm. Just as the chaps can enhance leg movement, shirt sleeves can enhance arm movement. Most cowboys wear shirts that have full, loose sleeves with snug-fitting cuffs.
As important as all these bullriding tips are, it’s all for nothing if the rider doesn’t make the eight seconds. Even a rider with a dazzling ride will end up with a score of zero if he doesn’t stay on the bull for the full time period.
Just as the rider is scored, so is the bull. The two judges score the bull while they are scoring the rider. Also just like the cowboy, the bull receives up to 25 points per judge. The bull earns points by how difficult he is to ride. Things that are judged include how hard the bull bucks, how often he changes direction, how fast he moves, and how many times he spins around. Anything the bull does to make himself look tougher, angrier, and more powerful result in a higher score. These might include actions like rolling to one side, kicking the hind legs, and dropping a shoulder or the whole front end.
Every bull rider who hopes to win wants to draw a bad bull, which is a good bull – one that will achieve a good score. In most rodeos, a random draw matches each bull rider to a bull, but in some rodeos, the cowboys get to choose their bulls. In professional rodeos, cowboys and bulls are all randomly matched by a computer. Then the results are posted a few days prior to the event.
Sometimes a good rider has the bad luck to draw a bull that’s easy to ride. Staying on for eight seconds is no problem, but the cowboy has a slim chance of winning because the bull will get a low score from the judges. If the cowboy cannot get the bull to buck vigorously, the judges will often offer a re-ride on a different bull.
The scores for the bull and the rider are added together for a total score of 100. A score of 75-85 is respectable, and one above 90 is exceptional. During the entire history of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys’ Association, only one perfect score for a bull ride has been awarded.
Many rodeos last for two or three days, with competitions and events each day. In that case, the rider’s scores for each day are added together. For example, if the cowboy got a score of 80 the first day, an 85 the second day, and a zero on the third day’s ride, his overall score would be 165. A rodeo cowboy must be consistent in order to win or place in a multi-day event. In other words, it would be better for the rider to get three scores of 75 each than to have two dazzling scores of 95 and then get bucked off on the final ride.
There’s a definite strategy to winning three-day rodeos. For example, if a cowboy’s scores are not at or near the top after the first two days, he might try to really impress the judges with a dazzling ride on the third day in order to raise his overall average. If he winds up getting thrown before the buzzer, he hasn’t lost anything. On the other hand, if he’s in the lead or close to it after the second day's ride, he’ll most likely try to make a decent ride on the last day but probably won’t chance trying to make an outstanding ride and perhaps falling off before the time is up, ending up with a score of zero that will bring his average down too low to win or place.
In rare cases, none of the bull riders in a rodeo will make the eight seconds, so they’ll tie with scores of zero. When that happens, most rodeos will award what’s referred to as “ground money.” This is when the entry fees or prize money is equally divided among all the contestants.
Most rodeo increase their chances of winning by staying in top physical condition. Some also practice on a mechanical bull to stay on top of their game in between rodeos. Others make a bucking barrel - a 55-gallon drum suspended by thick bungee cords and ropes that can be pulled vigorously in order to make the barel "buck." While mechanical bulls and bucking barrels are no substitute for a real bull, they can help improve balance.
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