In the Mind of a Bull Rider
Updated: Jan 30
Special by Shelby Skrelunas
Bull riding, America’s fastest growing sport, one of America’s most dangerous sports, and one of Native America’s biggest sports. Bull riders and cowboys are some of the biggest stars in Indian country. Per capita, the Navajo Nation has the best cowboys in the world, with several Navajos annually competing and winning in the world championships. The cowboys who take part in this sport are all very aware of the dangers that comes with it, and have such a deep passion for it that it’s worth putting everything they got into it. So it’s not that they’re naïve to the fact that it’s a dangerous sport, they know it’s dangerous and they want it. 8 seconds, that’s how long a cowboy has to stay on the bull for it to count as a ride. It seems like a short time but it is not an easy task to achieve. To see the training that is required and all the hard work some of these cowboys put in to achieve that, it gives you a bigger respect for the sport and the riders.
For this article, I asked Wyatt Nez if he wouldn’t mind be interviewed. He said he loved to give his insight of the sport and share the basic fundamentals to give everyone a better understanding of this truly exciting sport. He’s only 20 years old and has been riding most of his life, starting at just 2 years old he got on his first sheep, and as he got older has progressed into bigger animals. He is a bull rider and so far, has done well for himself. Only recently starting the pro circuit and is in his beginning years or rookie years as they call it. Wyatt has a very deep love for the sport and now I’m able to share with you what goes on in the mind of this bull rider.
What is needed to ride a bull?
For the equipment it’s pretty basic. You need a rope, glove, and most of the things that we have are for comforting purposes, but the only true things you need to ride bulls are a rope. But there are other things that help keep a rider safe as well, such as a helmet and a vest, that’s just a few off the top of my head. For the mental aspect, you need to me mentally tough, and going into this you need to know you’re going to endure some pain. You need to be able to block out that pain, block out that fear, and focus on getting your job done. It takes a lot of mental grit.
What exercises do you do for bull riding?
With bull riding there’s a lot of different exercises, but the main body part you want to work out for bull riding is your core. When you’re riding bull’s, your core is the middle section of the entire thing, people don’t understand how important the core is in bull riding, it’s what basically keeps you in time with the bull the entire 8 seconds, so I do a lot of core exercises. I also do a lot of things that will help my body, like a weight workout routine done at the gym. I also like full body exercises to really fine tune my muscles and train them more than weights can do, to make my muscles quicker and faster. For cardio, I like to try to run at least a mile a day, but most of your cardio should come from your shadow riding. Shadow riding is the physical and mental training method that replicates riding a bull, both in your mind and physical being, these movements need to be as realistic as possible. I also do things that incorporate balance, balance is one of key aspects of bull riding as well. There are 3 types of exercises I do for balancing, balancing on a medicine ball or a basketball, yoga ball, and riding a unicycle to improve my balance and fine tune my fast twitch muscles.
What is the rodeo lifestyle like?
The rodeo lifestyle is very nomadic, you’re constantly on the road but at the same time it’s a very rewarding lifestyle at well.
Have you been injured? And if so what’s the worst injury?
Yes, I have been injured. You know, surprisingly I’ve been very lucky in that sense, in the sense of injuries, I think the worst injury I’ve probably had was a couple of fractured jaws. You have to expect it though, injuries are inevitable in this sport.
What’s your preparation ritual for getting on a one-ton animal?
My preparation ritual for getting on a one-ton animal is fairly simple. Once I get behind the bucking chutes, I find out my draw, I’ll go look for the bull I drew, what side he’ll be loaded on, then l I take my stuff over and get my gear ready. I stretch to limber out my body along with some shadow riding. Once my body is ready to go, I allow myself time to get into a relaxed mindset. Once my bull is loaded, I’ll put on my rope and get ready to ride.
What feelings and emotions do you experience before the chute gate opens? what’s going through your mind?
There’s a lot of emotions going through your mind all in the matter of a second really, before that chute gate opens. I feel excitement, I feel fear, it’s a rush of adrenaline that can’t really be explained. I feel excitement, I feel fear all at the same time, but yet there’s nothing else in the world like it. It’s a unique adrenaline rush like no other.
For anybody who is interested in riding bulls, what would be the best way for them to start out?
When someone’s first starting it’s very important that they take the steps slow and look back at the fundamentals of bull riding. He needs to practice hip control, and where his center of balance is, it’s crucial that he gets down the motions of bull riding before getting on anything and once it comes time for him to get on live practice bull’s, he must start slow again and not rush anything. Start off with steers. A kid doesn’t learn anything by getting one jumped and slammed by a bull he’s not ready for, it only creates discouragement for a young rider. Make sure your child learns the proper form before getting him on any live practice animals to avoid injury.
What is your opinion on animal cruelty in the rodeo word?
This one’s always a tough one for me, because I want to say that animal cruelty doesn’t exist at all in the rodeo world, however some contestants don’t feel the need to think the same way. For me personally I like my rodeo world to be a peaceful environment, I’m not there to hurt the animal or discourage the animal in any sense. These animals are pure innocent animals that are sacred to me and the rodeo ground that I stand on is a rodeo temple to me. Everything about rodeo is sacred to me, so feeling the need to hurt an animal in any sort of way is never my intentions. My intentions are not to hurt the animal, my intentions are to be one with the animals, a partnership if you will, I wish everybody could see it that way but in life we all don’t think the same, but I hope to one day see rodeo become that for everybody. A rodeo temple.
How did you get into bull riding?
It’s hard to get into something you were already born into, my dad rode bulls professionally and did his best to teach me everything I know. I was lucky enough to be raised in a ranching and cowboy family. So growing up into rodeo wasn’t too hard for me. I use to toss myself around on the floor pretending to be a world champion bull rider as a kid, I got on my first sheep at the age of 2, and from there I just kept building my way up and now here I am. I’m lucky enough to have had such good cowboy roots through my family, and I’m very thankful for that.
What do you love so much about this sport?
It really builds character in a person, it shows you that you’re not the biggest and baddest thing on this earth, but you can be amongst them and be one with them. It makes one humble and it makes one tough and shows a kid you must work hard for what you got.