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Bull Riding: History, Rules & Scoring

bull riding

Bull riding is a thrilling rodeo event where riders attempt to stay atop a bucking bull for at least eight seconds. It’s one of the most dangerous and exciting sports in the world, combining brute strength, agility and extraordinary skill.

Bull Riding History

Bull riding is said to have originated in Mexico, where the sport was called charreada. Charreada is a competitive event that mimics the tasks of everyday ranch work such as branding and roping cattle. This event eventually evolved into the modern bull riding we see today. In the United States, charreada was first established in Texas in the mid-1800s. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) was founded in 1936 and is now one of the oldest professional sports organizations in North America.

Rules and Regulations

Bull riding is a timed event, typically 8 seconds long. The bull rider must stay on the bull for the entire duration of the ride to get a successful score. If the rider touches himself or his equipment with either hand, he will be disqualified. A qualified ride requires the rider to maintain contact with only one hand and control of the rope throughout the entire ride.

Points and Scoring

In bull riding, judges score the ride based on two criteria: the difficulty of the bull and the control of the rider. The rider is scored from 0-50 points. Similarly, the bull is scored from 0-50 and is judged on how much power and difficulty it presents to the rider. The bull and rider scores are then added together for a total score. The higher the score, the better the ride.

Bull Riding Equipment

Bull riding requires specialized equipment for both the bull and the rider.

  • Bull rope – The bull rope is the equipment used in bull riding. The rope, usually made of manila or polypropylene, is about nine feet long and has a loop at one end that fits around the bull’s chest. It also features a handhold at the other end, which is held by the rider for balance.
  • Chaps and Gloves – Apart from clothing, protective items are also necessary for bull riding. Riders wear chaps and gloves to protect their legs, arms and hands. Chaps are leather pants that wrap around the rider’s legs and provide protection from the sharp horns of the bull. The gloves help riders grip the rope firmly throughout their ride.
  • Vest – A protective vest is required for bull riding and must be made of a durable material like high-density foam, Spectra, or ballistic nylon. The vest should fit properly, and provide protection to the sternum, ribs, back and abdomen while also not limiting the movement of the rider. It should have adjustable straps and lacing to ensure a snug fit. 
  • Boots – Bull riding requires the use of boots to protect a rider’s feet and ankles while in the arena. The boots should be made of a sturdy material such as leather, and they should fit snugly so that they do not come off during the ride. A heel strap is also required to keep the boot from sliding off during a ride. Additionally, the boots should be with the spur, as these are needed to help steer the bull while they are riding. 

Rodeo Arena

The arena for a rodeo bull ride is an integral part of the event, as it is not only where the riders compete but also houses the equipment and personnel required. The arena will typically feature a dirt floor with a raised platform at one end that serves as the starting gate. In addition to this, there are often fences or protective barriers of some kind to ensure the safety of spectators and participants. The area is then surrounded by bleachers, allowing viewers an up-close look at all the action.

How to Bull Riding


What are bull riders called?

Riders who participate in bull riding events are commonly referred to as “pickup riders.”

What is the goal of bull riding?

The rider must make their attempt with one hand clutching the bull rope and the other arm held in the air. If the rider successfully completes an 8-second ride, he or she will be awarded points based on their score from the judges.

What makes a good bull ride?

A good bull ride is determined by a combination of factors: the rider’s skill, the bull’s strength and agility, and the judge’s assessment of how well the two perform together.

Why do bull riders rub the rope?

Bull riders use a rope to wrap around the bull during the ride. The rope helps keep them in position and is often made of either manila or hemp. Before the start of a bull riding event, riders will rub their rope, which gives it more traction.

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