What does it take to ride a bull?
First, you need a bull. A big, agile, easily irritated bull. The meaner, the better. Bulls are fast approaching the level of race horses in terms of team ownership, breeding rights, and - this is the important part - selling price. Chicken on a Chain is one of the best around - and Larry the Cable Guy owns part of him! (And yes, the bull has his own MySpace page. I'm being out-marketed by a bovine!) If you don't have a real, live, snot-blowing bull, make or rent your own. Worked for John Travolta!
You need supplies. Chaps aren't required, but have you ever seen a bull rider without the cowboy badge of honor? You need a bull rope, which, as far as I can tell, does come with a built-in handle, and some rosin to go with it. You need a bell (or two) to give weight to the rope, so that it falls off when you do. You need a protective vest. Just about everyone wears one today. A helmet never hurts - unless your pride is extra sensitive and your head is not. In which case, just go with a cowboy hat. They work better for throwing after a ride, anyway.
You need a high pain tolerance, a higher adrenaline tolerance, and an insanely high risk tolerance, because you will - repeat, WILL - get hurt. There's a reason Willy Nelson sings about "Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys," because no Momma wants to see her son get turned into beef burger in the ring.
That's right. I said son. In fact, those who ride bulls fit into a surprisingly narrow range of the population. I'd guess that over 80% of bull riders are white males between the ages of 16 and 35. A marketer's dream come true! Most of the rest of that group is made up of Brazilians. Those dudes are just as insane as we are, and they had to cross the equator to prove it. There are (and always have been, frankly) black cowboys, currently the most notable being Mike Moore (representing the home state of Illinois with pride!). And, believe it or not, there are gay bull riders. In fact, there are so many, they have their own rodeo circuit - the International Gay Rodeo Association (which predates Brokeback Mountain by about thirty years). But when most people think bull riders, they think of red-blooded American white guys.
These aren't the only people who ride bulls. Did you know that women ride bulls? It's true! Turns out that this insanity is not just limited to the male sex!
Frankly, the more I learn about people, the more I realize that there are only two things that separate what men and women can do. 1. Men can, in general, fart on command. It's not that women don't fart (Please!), but to do it on command really does seem to be a guy thing. And 2. (and this is the big one) Women give birth to babies (Arnold Schwarzenegger is the notable exception). It was once thought that women also were the only ones who could raise babies, but if you hung out with my husband and kid for very long, you'd know firsthand this just isn't true.
The rest? All just gender distinctions. Just as many women can lead nations or commit violent crimes as men can enjoy a really good Julia Roberts movie or chocolate (in any form).
Except in bull riding. Maybe it's that whole 'women and children' first mentality - the women must be saved! To hell with the men!
But there are women who do this. And there are enough women that they actually have factions based on philosophical differences. Should women get to use both hands, or just one, like the men do? (If a man's free hand touches either the bull or himself, he is disqualified.) Should women have to hit six seconds, or eight, like the men do? Should women get paid a few hundred bucks if they win, or should they get a few thousand, like the men do? Should they have their own separate competitions (which often take on a sideshow quality), or should they compete with the men? (I'll give them this - I haven't seen a picture of a woman riding yet where she wasn't wearing a helmet.)
Two and a half weeks ago, I didn't know any of this. None. I think I knew about the Gay Rodeo part, but that was from watching a King of the Hill episode.
Two and a half weeks ago, I didn't have 'the next book' to write. I was finishing up the Warrior (comma) Lawyer book and farming it out to readers with no idea what was coming up next. I'm enjoying writing about the Lakota tribe of South Dakota, and thought I should keep doing that, but I didn't have a story. So I told this to my lovely co-worker Mary, aka the Grammar Goddess who's suffered through - er, I mean read - everything I've written.
And about five minutes later, she says, "You know, I'd kind of like to know what happens to June."
June. A minor - and I mean MINOR - character who appeared in both the previous Lakota books as a young girl. We only ever see her around horses and cowboys.
So, what would June, a young Lakota Indian woman who spent all her free time (that we saw) with cows, cowboys, and horses be like when she grew up?
In less than ten minutes, I knew. June would ride bulls. And she would do it well.
The problem was, I know next to nothing about riding bulls. I've only been to one rodeo, about 10 years ago in Cody, Wyoming, memorable for my sister Leah making a suggestive comment that nearly incited a riot in the Mennonite women sitting in front of us and my mother (God love her) noticing that some cowboys were changing in broad daylight right next to the stand - and then video taping it for us.
So I've undertaken a study of bull riding, and women bull riders. The PCB circuit is actually coming to town today, so I'm going to spend my afternoon trying to crash the set up and glean as much as I can from real, live cowboys (I do love YouTube, but you can only get so much from 3 minutes of grainy footage with heavy metal blaring in the background!) I have also found some enthusiastic young women (I get to say that because I'm going to be 33 in 2 months, and most of these women aren't of legal drinking age yet) who are all about riding bulls - professionally. The Women's Roughstock Foundation is out there, lives on the line, to do something I wouldn't do in a million, billion years.
And you know what? More power to them. I hope June and I can do them proud. Because, frankly, I don't think I want to piss these women off. I'm pretty sure they can beat me up!