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On the Edge of Common Sense: The mechanical bull

Baxter Black Published on 07 October 2009

“So, what’s the difference between riding a mechanical bull and riding a real one?” asked the boy of his dad.

“You will know the difference, my son, the first time you climb over into the buckin’ chute and look down.”

The mechanical bull is a carnival ride; it is not a life-changing experience. Riding a real bull will affect how you answer one of the questions you will be asked the rest of your life.



Whenever PBR comes on ESPN, or Extreme Sports are being discussed, you will have a practiced answer like … “I was going to ride one once but I had a sinus infection so I couldn’t,” or “I was taking piano lessons and worried about injuring my hand,” or “Yeah, I rode bulls ‘til my brains came in.”

I can’t remember the first bull I got down on. I do recall trying to hang on to the back of a steer in a roping chute and being scraped off! I started riding bulls in high school. There wasn’t much of a system set up for kids to learn. Most of the rides I made were in rodeos where the money was up.

I tell the story in retrospect years later that I had a friend on the NMSU rodeo team named Charley Engle. He was a good bull rider and I admired him. When I asked him for advice he suggested that I had to practice.

“Practice?!!” I thought. “Does that make any sense to anyone: I’m going to have a train wreck tomorrow, I better have one today to practice!”

The difference between riding a mechanical bull and a real bull has less to do with the actual ability to stay on, and more to do with facing your own courage; i.e., how you will deal with an unforgiving, unpredictable, massively strong, dangerously quick force of nature.


Riding bulls is better compared to standing outside during a tornado, arm-wrestling an octopus, or walking in a cage with a grizzly bear! You cannot control the outcome, yet you drop down on his back with a leg on either side.

You glance at the spread of horns as big as baseball bats three feet in front of your face. Your muscles are as tight as tarp rubbers as you slide your rosined hand into the rope. They pull it tight.

“Good?” they ask.

“More,” you say.

You have squeezed your mind into a steel jacketed blue tip laser flame of concentration. You have gone inside your mind as the mechanics of mounting swirl around you.

You take your wrap. The bull bangs his horns on the steel chute. He mashes your leg into the side.


You can feel his body heat and taste his feral tension. It smells like a storm coming. You scoot up on your hand, lean back. You are so in tune, you can feel your nerves running through your veins like sand in an hourglass.

You are totally spring-loaded, shivering, focused.

Dad says, “Nod your head when you’re ready.” The son nods his head and they explode from the chute together. PD