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Bull Riding? It's Kids' Stuff!

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Bull Riding? It's Kids' Stuff!

THERE'S good reason why extreme bull riding is called "the most dangerous eight seconds in sports" - the courage and ability to stay aboard a feisty animal about the size and weight of a small family car for even a fraction of time is hardly kids' stuff.

So, on the face of it, allowing youngsters the opportunity to experience this heart-pounding world of hurt at Manfeild Stadium next Saturday, April 9, might seem . well, a touch 'ambitious'.

But parents need not fear. The young 'uns are in no peril.

The bull they'll be invited to ride isn't a living animal but an apparatus that will be tuned to provide big thrills and soft-landing spills.

Getting in a mechanical bull designed for children is all part of making the Radio Hauraki Manfeild Bull Riding event more of a family show, says organiser Shane Bird.

Another impetus is to make it a day-time event, from 11am to 5pm, rather than in the evening.

"Any kid of any age can have a go on the bull during the day, but we'll also have a riding competition that is only for kids aged 8-12.

"They'll have to ride for eight seconds, the same time as an adult rider has to stay on a real bull, and their efforts will be considered by professional judges.

"It'll be as real as possible, but obviously not dangerous like the real thing - there's no chance of getting run over!"

The kids' riding will be a fun warm up to the main event, kicking off around 1.30pm, in which the country's best competitors - including past and present New Zealand champions - will be challenged by the land's worst-tempered bulls. And that's way more serious.

In sport, there's surely little more dangerous than trying to stay aboard a wildly bucking Brahman-cross, with just a braided manila rope as security.

Most of the bulls chosen for Manfeild are purpose-bred on the Bird family farm near Kimbolton, and weigh between 650-900kgs, with a handful of extras from Raetihi.

None are exactly docile - "they're bred to buck, and that's it" - so clearly it takes a special kind of competitor to take them on. Yet takers to experience this adrenaline rush aren't in short supply.

"Actually, bull riding as a competition is going from strength to strength here," Mr Bird says. "We've seen quite a few entries in rodeo and bull-riding and quite a lot of young blokes are coming through."

Mr Bird knows full well about the highs and lows of this sport.

He started out 11 years ago, at the tender age of 17, and has felt the gain, with national recognition and silverware, but also the pain.

Smashed ribs, being knocked unconscious, arm and leg fractures and loosened and lost teeth all come with the territory.

Now he's moved into another in-the-ring role - bull fighting, also known as rodeo clowning.

The clown's job is to divert the animal's attention long enough to let the rider escape at the end of their stint.

The basic rule of bull riding is obvious: Hop on and hang on - with one hand.

The other hand must remain free at all times, and if the free hand touches the bull during any part of the ride the rider is disqualified and no score awarded. With the size, strength and agility putting the odds already firmly with the beast, the chances of staying on seem slim at best.

Action happens at a blur but every movement is noted. The action of the bull is as closely judged as the rider's reaction. If the rider completes an eight second ride he is awarded a score out of a possible 50 points, and the bull is also scored out of a possible 50 points.

And if a rider doesn't last the full eight seconds? Tough luck, there's no score.

There are two levels of expertise. Qualifying is for newcomers and Open is for the more experienced.

The animals are as much on show as the riders; both are true athletes in their own right. Every bull is unique in its bucking habits - some may dart one way or the other, or rear back. Some spin or continuously circle in one spot in the arena. Others add jumps or kicks to their spins.

They're actually not naturally angry animals. "A bull's natural inclination is to buck, and these bulls are used to this. Once they get into the arena, they know why they are there. They have their game face on as much as the rider does."

Entry to the Radio Hauraki Bullride costs $20 per adult, $10 per child, with free entry to pre-schoolers. Tickets are bought at the door. Food and refreshments are available and, if the mechanical bull seems too much, there are also stalls, an obstacle course and a bouncy castle.

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