The wild, bucking mechanical bull is a fixture at honky tonk bars and line dancing clubs, but in combination with a little liquid courage, it often results in a lot of very short, very embarrassing rides. While riding a mechanical bull may seem like a chaotic endeavor, there’s actually a method to the madness. To master the technique, we caught up with a real cowboy.
Will Roberts, founder of the Mechanical Bull Association and an expert in all things Wild West, is a professional cowboy of nearly 20 years. He’s also a former Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas performer and a Guinness World Record holder in gun spinning. Based in Hollywood, he’s trained people in how to ride mechanical bulls for film and television—he even trained Beyoncé for her “Suga Mama” video (“she looked like a rockstar and I was like, ‘Go on Beyoncé gedderdone!’”)
Follow Roberts’ tips on how to ride a mechanical bull like a pro, and not only will you avoid looking like an idiot or getting injured, but you’ll also break your local bar record in no time.
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Step One: Mount the Bull
Before you get on a mechanical bull, make sure it has a padded strap and not a long rope handle. If it does use rope, Roberts says, “My best tip I can give you is ‘good luck.’” If there is a proper padded strap, hop on the bull and grab the strap with your non-dominant hand, underhanded. Hold your free hand up in the air for balance in an “L” shape. “If you fall, you’ll have your dominant hand free to break your fall,” Roberts says.
Step Two: Get Into Position
Move your body as far forward in the saddle as possible to minimize movement, and squeeze the bull with your legs. Grip tightly with your thigh muscles, and make sure your feet are in front of you, not angled behind you. Dig your heels into the side of the bull, as if you had stirrups, with your toes pointed outward, like you were turning out in ballet. “Do not pigeon toe your feet into the bull,” Roberts says. “Your toes do not have any strength.” Keep your upper body relaxed.
Step Three: Watch the Bull (and Only the Bull)
Watch the head of the mechanical bull for indications of directional changes and to help maintain balance. Try not to look at your friends or the phones they’re definitely filming you on while the bull is moving—just watch the head of the bull. A good operator will give you the chance to practice a bit before speeding it up. And, whatever you do, don’t try to showboat. “Forget about your ego,” Roberts says. “If you think about your ego, most likely you’re gonna end up on the mat, and you may get hurt. Only take the bull as fast as you think you can do it. You’re not in the Pro Bull Riding Tour, you’re in the couch cowboy tour.”
Step Four: See-Saw With the Bull
When the bull’s head moves down, lean back, maintaining a firm grip with your lower body. “Riding a mechanical bull is just oppositions,” Roberts says. “By leaning back, you’re allowing yourself to shock absorb the buck. If you sit rigidly, you’ll be thrown off and last about two and a half seconds.” When the bull’s head moves up, lean all the way forward. Repeat this back and forth motion as the bull speeds up. “It’s the path of least resistance,” he says. “Don’t ride the bull, let the bull ride you.”
Step Five: Keep Going Until You Can’t Go No More (About 10 Seconds)
Stay on the bull for as long as possible. If you are concerned at any time, say “stop,” while extending your arm with a flat hand forward to communicate to the operator you are ready for the ride to end. “Riding it for 8 to 10 seconds will look good in a video, and 15 would be the best,” Roberts says. “But if you go any longer than that, you’re not gonna be able to move tomorrow. You’ll be bruised and bow-legged like a cowboy.”