Lifestyle Feature – Bull Riding 101, a Q&A with Two Fearless Cowboys

Lifestyle Feature – Bull Riding 101, a Q&A with Two Fearless Cowboys

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Bull riding is an intrinsic part of Costa Rica culture and entertainment, especially in Guanacaste. It’s one thing to get in a ring and run away from bulls (which is also popular), but it’s another thing to get on the bull’s back and try to hold on while he bucks with all his strength. The Howler talked to two veteran bull riders to find out how they do it — and, of course, why.

Walter Rodriguez Espinoza

Known as “Chirimba,” Rodriguez is a 45-year-old former bull rider from Santa Cruz. He has been riding bulls since he was 14, and he is the founder of two bull-riding groups, Sangre Nueva (“New Blood”) for beginners and Los Bajureños de Santa Cruz (“The Lowlanders of Santa Cruz”) for pros.

Q: How do you train for bull riding?

A: We train twice a week, Wednesday and Thursday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Part of the training is weightlifting, cardio exercise and riding “The Barrel,” which simulates the movements of a bull. A bull rider is a well-rounded athlete who needs good preparation, strength training, balance, resistance and focus to be able to ride a bull.

Q: How do the riders prepare themselves the day of the event?

A: When we arrive at the venue we get together and say a special prayer in which we put this entire spectacle in the hands of God, and during the whole event we mutually encourage each other. There are people who tell us we’re crazy for getting on a bull, but people don’t know how much we prepare ourselves physically and mentally for this sport. And besides, a man who rides a bull does it because he has it in his blood, he carries it in his heart and his soul, and so we don’t have to be crazy or on drugs, it’s our lifestyle.

Q: What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever seen in this sport?

A: Once when I was riding a bull called “El Santa Cruz,” I fell off the animal and my shirt got hooked and the bull dragged me a long time, beating me up pretty bad. We prepare riders for situations like this and for any eventuality, and they know what to do.

We don’t have to be crazy or on drugs, it’s our lifestyle

Jeancarlos Cisneros Gutierrez

Cisneros, 28, of Santa Cruz has been riding bulls since he was 14, starting with calves for fun with his brothers and his friends. It became a passion and he started training to do it professionally. He started riding bulls at fiestas on Thursdays and Fridays, and as he improved his technique he moved to Saturdays and Sundays, when they ride the biggest, fiercest bulls. At 17, in 2007, he was declared bull-riding champion of the Los Guayacanes group.

Photos by Abi Acuña

Q: Why are you so passionate about this extreme sport?

A: I do it because I like the feeling and the adrenaline rush it gives you. My grandfather was a bull rider, and so are my brothers. It’s something you’re born with, and I carry it in my blood.

Q: How do you prepare yourself
physically to ride a bull?

A: I train from Monday to Friday for 30 minutes on “The Barrel” to improve my movement and develop strength in my legs, and I also lift weights and do cardio exercise. Besides, the work I do is part of my training; I work in the fields with my in-laws maintaining a finca, rounding up cattle, building fences, sawing wood. It’s heavy work and it helps me stay strong.

Q: What’s your riding style?

A: I use two styles: with fixed spurs and country style with spinning spurs. The spinning spur slides off the bull more easily, so the rider has to apply more strength with his legs and really fight to stay on the bull’s back. This style is harder but I really like it because it shows the skill and strength of the rider.

Q: What’s the most extreme experience you’ve had in your career?

A: When I was 20, a bull called “La Llorona” broke my left arm, I had to get surgery and they put pins and plates in my arm that I’ll have for the rest of my life.

Q: How much money do you get for riding a bull?

A: Very little! If it’s Thursday or Friday, they pay us 10,000 or 15,000 colones. Saturdays and Sundays it’s 15,000 to 20,000 colones. I ride from Friday to Sunday. Although I would like it if they paid more, I don’t do it for the money, I do it out of passion and because I love doing it.