How Do They Make Bulls Buck at a Rodeo?

The answer may not be what you think

Cowboy Riding Bull
A bull attempts to hurl a cowboy from his back during a rodeo competition. Gunter Marx Photography / Getty Images

Why do bulls buck? Jumping, bucking and kicking are inborn abilities that bulls exhibit naturally. All rodeo bulls instinctively want to get that lump of weight off their backs when they're first introduced to riders, and who can blame them? But controversy stirs anyway among animal rights groups and those who do not understand the inner workings of the rodeo. They say that surely this cannot be a natural reflex and someone must be doing something to these poor animals to make them buck like that.

Not so. Here's the truth behind all that jumping and spinning and kicking. 

Bulls Are Bred to Buck

First, these are no run-of-the-mill bulls. Most rodeo bulls are bred specifically for their bucking ability. Yes, it's in their genes. They're further trained to know when they should—and when they shouldn't—get cantankerous and kick up a little dust. This isn't to say that they'll necessarily buck on cue, but they don't have to be provoked by pain or even discomfort before they'll do so. 

Flank Straps 

Nothing is done to the bulls to "make" them buck. They're going to do that anyway. But a painless, harmless method is employed to encourage this ability and behavior and to give the animal the incentive to buck as hard and effectively as possible. It's accomplished through the use of a specially-designed device known as the flank strap.

Despite what you hear from certain animal rights activists, this strap does not induce pain.

It works by pressure, just like a lead chain for a dog or a bit in a saddle horse's mouth. In fact, the flank strap is tightened in the same way you cinch a girth on a riding saddle on a horse, except the flank has a quick release.

These straps are typically lined with sheepskin or they're padded to avoid chafing, cutting or otherwise hurting the bull.

The strap does not come in contact with the bull's genitals, no matter what you've heard to the contrary. 

If you have any doubt, tune in the next time a rodeo is televised and watch what happens when the ride is over. The cowboy is no longer on the bull's back, but the flank strap is still in place. Is the bull bucking? Usually not, at least not for very long or very hard, because that flank strap was never what was causing him to buck so hard in the first place, at least not by itself by causing the animal pain. 

The Bottom Line 

Nothing is done to intentionally hurt the bucking stock at a rodeo. This includes the binding of testicles, a popular lie spread by certain groups taking a stand against the sport. It includes drugging, beating or burning. Nothing at all is done to these animals to make them react in a certain way to avoid pain. After the ride is over, the bull usually stops bucking shortly after the rider's weight is gone.

These animals are the lifeblood of the stock contractors' business and they're a rodeo cowboy's livelihood. It's in the best interest of everyone involved that these animals be protected. Rodeo is a dangerous sport and accidents do happen, but there are more rules in place to govern the safety of the livestock than there are to protect the competitors themselves.

Most of the propaganda against rodeo is spread by the misunderstanding of simple facts such as these. Most people who are vehemently opposed to rodeo really don't know anything about it, or about animals in general for that matter. Cowboys and cowgirls understand the power of bucking bulls and a mutual respect develops between the animals and competitors.