Preparing the brain for the bull, riders say don’t think about it

CALGARY — Garrett Green found good advice for riding a bull in the book “The Inner Game of Tennis”.

Preparing to board a three-quarter ton mass of muscle, horn and unpredictability named “Fidget Spinner” or “Mr. Sunshine” tends to ruffle the mind.

Green applies knowledge gleaned from a mental-training book about a racket sport to bull riding, although a tennis ball won’t chase and gore you after a drop shot.

“There’s two of you going into battle,” explains the 27-year-old from Meeting Creek, Alta. “One of you is an anxious over-thinker and the other one is laid back and he goes and he does it.

“I’ve got to be the No. 2. You can’t let anxious guy get up in there and make you all scared.”

The hour before a bull riding event is an interesting one around the chutes. Athletes deal with what they’re about to do in different ways.

Routines that occupy — some might say distract — the mind are useful.

For some, conserving mental and physical energy is paramount for those eight seconds when the body floods with adrenaline and the mind suddenly has a lot to deal with.

“I find I have more success when I’m more relaxed,” said reigning Canadian bull riding champion Wacey Finkbeiner of Medicine Hat, Alta.

“The more worked up I get, the worse I perform. I just like hanging out with my buddies and joking around. The last thing on my mind before I crawl in the chute is riding bulls.”

Finkbeiner is among the bull riders invited to the Calgary Stampede rodeo opening Friday. One of the richest rodeos in the world offers a total of $2 million in prize money.

Winners of the July 14 finals in bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, saddle bronc, bareback and barrel racing each earn a cheque for $100,000 in addition to prize money they’ve collected during the 10-day rodeo.

Luck feels like an important ingredient in a volatile sport like bull riding, but it was difficult to find a superstitious rider at this week’s Cody Snyder Charity Bullbustin event in southwest Calgary.

Jordan Hansen, another Stampede invitee, knows of a few cases.

“There are some people who won’t eat chicken before they get on because they feel you are what you eat,” Hansen said. “I’m serious. That is one.

“People won’t put their hat on a bed. Someone started that and they say it’s bad luck.

“Another thing. Yellow. They don’t want to wear yellow in the arena. That one I think started back from Roman era times when the cowards got painted with yellow.”

Hansen, from Okotoks, Alta., spends the hour before his ride getting treatment on aches and pains in the sports medicine trailer and socializing with his bull-riding brethren.

If he’s never ridden the bull he’s drawn, Hansen might go size up the animal he hopes will bring a good payday.

“You don’t see it much up here, but you see guys in the States put their hand on the (bull’s) back and say a prayer,” he said.

Todd Chotowetz of Major, Sask., resists the urge to get scouting reports from fellow competitors or the stock contractor on the bull he’s drawn.

“In the back of your mind, you kind of want to know, but you know you shouldn’t want to know,” he said. “Don’t try and set a game plan for any bull.

“They don’t all have a set pattern anyway.

“If you can turn your brain right off, it would be the best thing you could do. Too bad it doesn’t work like that all the time.”

Bantering with other riders behind the chutes helps keep Green’s mind clear.

“It helps you not think about it if you talk about something else,” he said. “I don’t mind talking about bull riding, but I don’t want to talk about the bull I’m about to get on or what he’s about to do.”

The moment of truth arrives quickly enough when Green lowers himself onto the bull’s back in the chute.

“You’re getting down on a big, scary animal,” Green said. “I take a big, deep breath.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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