Bull riding is the “sport” where a person attempts to stay on a bucking bull for 8 seconds. The rider is awarded points for how many times the bull bucks and how long they last riding them.
Why are bulls angry?
Bulls are not a naturally angry or aggressive creature. Being prey animals they enjoy being part of a herd, as this helps them feel safe. They are also incredibly social and studies have found that they can remember up to 70 individuals and have a social hierarchy . They have an inherent fear of unfamiliar objects, situations, smells, sudden movements, and noises, and are scared in situations where they are solitary or isolated [2 PDF].
A bull appears aggressive because the event plays on their fears. Bucking is often a bulls’ instinctive response to fear, discomfort, and pain*. Other common signs of stress and fear in bulls are shown through their facial expressions, excessive drooling of saliva, an open mouth, and flared nostrils. Some bulls even charge at the riders or the staff inside the arena, highlighting their distress.
*Not every bull is “suitable” for bull riding. This industry requires bulls that respond to the torment, by bucking.
Isolating a herd or prey animal creates fear and can result in aggression. The bulls are transported around Australia, meaning they are kept in an unnatural setting away from their herd. Before their event, they are forced into a chute, where they are isolated from the other bulls. As the gate opens, they are released into the arena, where they are alone, surrounded by more people. As they buck, they look for an escape route, but are trapped. The stressful situation causes them to become more aggressive – just as they would if they were being attacked by a predator.
The bulls are tormented to provoke them into being “aggressive”. Whilst in the chute, the bulls are shocked with electric prodders, jabbed with spurs, kicked and hit, have their tails twisted and pulled, and fingers shoved up their nose . The physical abuse causes the bulls to respond aggressively. In addition to this, they have a flank strap tied tightly around their sensitive belly (not genitals) and a rider on their back. As the gate opens, the bull “bucks” in an attempt to dislodge the rider and remove the uncomfortable flank strap. Once again, their reaction to being ridden and abused is the same as if they were being attacked by a predator. It is not uncommon to see bulls hurl themselves into solid objects in an attempt to rid the rider and escape the situation.