3. Bull Riding – Dangers, Death and Injuries

Date: 17 August 2022
Bull Riding Dangers

Dangers, deaths and Injuries for the cowboys/cowgirls.



In the Chute

The rider can be injured in the chute before the chute is opened. The most common injury in the chute is a broken lower leg. Tibia plateau fractures can occur from the lower leg being crushed between the horse and the bars of the chute.

The cowboy’s / cowgirl’s head can also hit the bars at the front of the chute when the bull jumps forward. In some rodeo venues, the bars are covered with padding to help prevent concussions from occurring in the chute. There are also reports of riders losing their balance in the chute and falling between the bull and wall, with the risk of being trampled.


During the Ride

A concussion is one of the more common injuries during the ride. A concussion can occur due to the whiplash effect of impact from the rider’s head hitting against the bull’s head.

Head injuries and spinal injuries are common.

Multiple upper extremity injuries can occur during the ride due to the extreme force through the riding arm. The shoulder was the most commonly injured body part; shoulder fractures and shoulder dislocations are common.

Injury to the elbow with elbow ligament injuries and elbow dislocations in the riding hand is thought to occur from the supinated fixed position of the elbow during the ride

Not surprisingly, wrist and hand injuries are common during the ride.

Groin injuries can occur during the ride and account for 6 % of all injuries in professional Bull riding.

Knee injuries occur if the rope wraps around the ankle while the rider is dismounting, causing a whipping effect as the rider is dragged behind the bucking bull.



Areas injured during the dismount include soft tissue, chest, abdomen, and limb. The knee was the second most commonly injured body part in bull riders. Knee injuries usually occur when the rider hits the ground. Planting and twisting lead to injuries of the knee and ankle. Involuntary dismount from a bucking bull can result in large forces with deceleration and blunt force to the rider when they hit the ground with resultant life-threatening injuries and even death. Other upper extremity injuries can occur as well. Hyperextension of the elbow during the dismount is a common injury. Other common upper extremity injuries from a fall include clavicle fracture, shoulder dislocation, humorous fracture, acromioclavicular joint separation, or rotator cuff injury.


Dangerous Rides

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Required Equipment

Bull riders use many pieces of equipment both functionally and to ensure maximum safety, both for themselves and to the animals involved.

The primary piece of equipment used is the bull rope. It is a braided rope made of polypropylene, grass, or some combination. A handle is braided into the centre of the rope and is usually stiffened with leather. One side of the rope is tied in an adjustable knot that can be changed for the size of the bull. The other side of the rope (the tail) is a flat braid and is usually coated with rosin to keep it from sliding through the rider’s hand. A metallic bell is strapped to the knot and hangs directly under the bull throughout the ride. In addition to the sound the bell produces, it also gives the rope some weight, allowing it to fall off the bull once a rider has dismounted.

Chaps are probably the most noticeable piece of bull rider clothing, as their distinctive colouring and patterns add flair to the sport. Usually made of leather, chaps also provide protection for the rider’s legs and thighs.

Bull riders wear protective vests, usually made of high-impact foam that allow the shock to disperse over a wide area, thereby reducing pain and injury. The vest’s creator, Cody Lambert, debuted it at the California Rodeo Salinas in the summer of 1993, and for several months, he was the only bull rider using one. It was not until the spring of 1994 that other contestants began riding with vests. The number of bull riders with vests grew over the months, and by the fall of that year, the vast majority of riders were using them. They were officially made mandatory for all contestants by 1996. Some bull riding vests also include a neck roll for protection to the neck, although very few riders use a vest with said modification.

To prevent a rope burn, riders must wear a protective glove, usually made of leather. It must be fastened to the rider’s hand since the force the animal is able to exert could easily tear it away. The rider often applies rosin to the glove, which allows for additional grip.

Cowboy boots are also worn. The dull and loosely locked spurs help keep the rider balanced and is a crucial piece of equipment to the sport as a whole. The bulls are unharmed by the rowels, as their hide is roughly seven times thicker than a human being’s skin. Truly skilled riders will often spur the bull in the hope of achieving extra style points from the judges.

Many riders wear mouth guards, which are optional at the professional level.

For most of bull riding’s history, the primary headgear worn by contestants was cowboy hats. However, starting in the early 1990s, a small number of them were riding either with a protective face mask underneath their hat or with a modified, full ice hockey helmet. An even smaller number rode with a lacrosse helmet. By 2003, though still a minority, helmeted bull riders were more common than ever, and the number of contestants who rode with helmets grew throughout the rest of the 2000s. Especially during the latter years of the decade. By the early 2010s, manufacturers were building helmets made specifically for bull riding. Around the same time, most up-and-comers were already riding with helmets. In 2013, the PBR made it mandatory that all contestants at their events who were born on or after October 15, 1994 ride with a full bull riding helmet. Those born before that date were grandfathered in and permitted to ride with a face mask underneath their hat or simply with their hat if so desired.

Public health researchers found evidence suggesting that bull riding helmets are protective when riders wearing one particular type of helmet suffered approximately 50% fewer head and facial injuries.

In 2004, at the 1st International Rodeo Research and Clinical Care Conference in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the licensed rodeo and bull riding medical personnel and clinicians recommended to the rodeo and bull riding associations mentioned in the agreement the mandatory use of helmets to all youth bull riders and the recommendation of helmets to all adult bull riders.

For competitors under the age of 18, mandatory protective headgear incorporating an ice hockey-style helmet is worn. Riders who use helmets as youths tend to continue wearing them as they reach adulthood and turn professional.


Bull equipment

The flank strap is a soft cotton rope at least 5/8″ in diameter and is used without extra paddings like sheepskin or neoprene. It is tied around the bull’s flank. Contrary to popular belief, the flank strap is not tied around the bull’s testicles. This rope is to encourage the bull to use his hind legs more in a bucking motion, as this is a true test of a rider’s skill in maintaining the ride. If it is applied improperly a rider may request to ride again, as the bull will not buck well if the flank strap is too tight. The flank strap is applied by the stock contractor


The arena

The arenas used in professional bull riding vary. Some are rodeo arenas that are used only for bull riding and other rodeo events. Others are event centres that play host to many different sports. Common to all arenas is a large, open area that gives the bulls, bull riders, and bullfighters plenty of room to manoeuvre. The area is fenced, usually 6 to 7 feet high, to protect the audience from escaped bulls. There are generally exits on each corner of the arena for riders to get out of the way quickly. Riders can also hop onto the fence to avoid danger. One end of the arena contains the bucking chutes from which the bulls are released. There is also an exit chute where the bulls can exit the arena.


Equipment Suppliers

Please note: I do not take any responsibility for an accident, disability, death, public liability, third party, medical costs, destruction of property, damages to self or others, destruction of all equipment, disability, personal liability, general liability, self-harm, suicide, harm to livestock, harm to animals, harm to children and intentional bodily harm, for using any of the listed products and suppliers. Please consult with the manufacturers and instructors, when buying the equipment that is suitable for you.

Rodeo mart

Beast master rodeo

Rodeo hard

Rodeo gear



If you think you have what it takes to be a Cowgirl and for the love of rodeo and the ride, consult with your local Rodeo body to provide all the answers you need to get started.

If you wish to learn more about this sport and its history, just pop me a mail and I will send the information to you: info@tanyasworldofsports.co.za

When you are ready to take on those mounts, Please take a moment and bow to people that are disabled, that cannot take part in such sports.


To all you avid gamers out there, here are some bucking bronco bull games for you to enjoy!

Out of the Chute

8 to Glory

Top Hand Rodeo Tour

My views, comments and content are strictly are of my own opinion and researching and are not governed or influenced by any marketing of companies or brands. It is of my own free will to mention companies and brands that supply sporting equipment pertaining to the sport in discussion.