Bull riders are the rock stars of the rodeo. They ride the biggest, toughest animals and risk the most with every turn out of the chute. When the bull riders take the arena, everyone stops to watch.
Stonyford was a bit more small time than the stuff you see on TV. Most riders struggled just to make the eight seconds, but a couple guys got in the money with 70 and 80 point rides.
It takes guts to strap yourself to 2,500 pounds of angry bull flesh and try to hang on with just one hand; bull riders are tough men. But more impressive to me were the rodeo clowns. Officially they're known as bullfighters, which makes sense considering that they're on the ground with the bulls and in their face. Once the rider has been bucked off, it's the bullfighter's job to steer the bull away from the thrown cowboy and give him a chance to run away. The bullfighters get right up next to the bull, sometimes even putting the palm of their hand on the animal's forehead. These are tough men.
This guy in the barrel wasn't much a bullfighter. He was more of an entertainer. He pulled stunts between riders and told jokes over the PA. He had a few close calls in the barrel (I kept hoping the bull would butt it and knock him over) but mostly he was left alone.
Watching a bull explode out of the gate is absolutely thrilling. As they buck and twist, their eyes glaze over and they becomes true forces of nature. Long ribbons of snot fly from their flared nostrils and their bodies flex and strain. Bulls are bred to be vicious and they buck from natural instinct. The flank strap (which people mistakenly think is wrapped around the bull's genitals) is an added provocation meant to cause the bull to kick up its back end more; this helps the bull rider achieve a higher score.
A lot of people think that bull riding is cruel; I'm sure PETA doesn't care much for the sport. But as far as I'm concerned, PETA be damned. The bulls are bred to be ferocious. Bucking is what they were born to do. Plus, bull riding is just plain fun to watch.