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A beginner’s guide to bull riding

Canadian bull-riding champion Tanner Girletz’s advice on how to experience the ride of your life

  • Jun 26, 2019
  • 549 words
  • 3 minutes
A bull rider competes at the Calgary Stampede. (Photo: Mike Ridewood/Calgary Stampede)
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This summer, forget the music festivals, canoe trips, crowded museums, amusement parks and that same-old, same-old scene at the beach. This summer, you’re going to try something new. This summer you’re going to try…bull riding? Well, sure — why the hell not? After all, rodeo season is in full swing. And after a long gloomy winter and a dismally wet spring, you deserve an experience that’s going to physically and mentally challenge you, not to mention get your adrenalin pumping. So don’t even think about bungee jumping. Instead, rustle yourself up a pair of kick-ass rodeo chaps and heed the advice of Tanner Girletz, the 2006 Canadian bull-riding champ, who knows a thing or two about going buck wild.

Where do I begin if I want to try bull riding?

Whether you want to get on a bull one time or 50 times, spend the money and go to a good bull-riding school. They’ll teach you the correct and safest way to get on. I’ve seen guys go out to practice pens and get on their first bull as a dare, but bulls are usually way over the top of most beginners’ heads.

Wait — you mean there are actually bull-riding schools?

Yeah. Out here in Alberta they’re at places like Lakeland College in Vermilion and Olds College in Olds, and there’s one in Esterhazy, in Saskatchewan, but they’re all over the country. If you’re really serious about it, I’d also suggest finding an older bull rider who will take you in, work with you and show you the lay of the land around the rodeo scene.

Could I practise on a mechanical bull? 

Well, they’re more fun at the bar than they are good for bull riding! I’ve never been on one myself, but they don’t seem remotely close to the real thing. However dangerous it might sound, the best practise for bull riding is to get on a real bull.

Tanner Girletz competes in the 2017 Canadian Finals Rodeo at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton. (Photo: Mike Copeman)
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Then how should I prepare for my first real bull ride?

Being in half decent physical shape helps, but bull riding really is 110 per cent mental. I’ve seen guys come in that are in great shape but have absolutely zero confidence in themselves and not be able to do it. And don’t look at a bull and try to get a baseline of what you think it’s going to do. If you do, you set a trap for yourself because the bull will do something else and throw you off. Basically, don’t be overconfident.

I’m tall and skinny. Will that help or hinder me?

Bull riders come in all shapes and sizes. I’m built like a soup can — short and stocky. But the ideal height is 5’7” or 5’8” and the ideal weight is between 155 and 170 pounds. You don’t see as many tall guys because it’s harder to do with their centre of gravity. But then some of the best bull riders that have ever lived are great big tall guys, which shows you that it all comes back to what you think you can do.

Any recovery tips?

Rest, water and ice, because it’s like any other sport nowadays. And I’m not opposed to having a beer afterward, that’s for sure.


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