Eight Second Ride: The Courage of a Bull Rider
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By Emily McAfee
The roar of a crowd fills the air, as the bull rider steps into the arena. This is an all too familiar sound for rodeo fans, because bull riding is a sport like no other.
Each cowboy has eight seconds to entertain the crowd. However, this is not an easy task, because the bull is doing everything in its power to throw the rider on the ground.
Ty Birky, 28, has been riding bulls since he was 18 years old.
“I always wanted to compete in rodeo, but I didn’t know what event I would end up doing,” Ty said.
Ty currently lives in Clark County, but he is originally from Wyaconda, Missouri. His parents are David and Grace Birky. Ty’s family has been in the rodeo business for many years. His father, David used to ride broncs and his grandpa used to ride broncs and bulls.
The first time Ty got on a bull, he thought to himself, What am I doing? However, this did not stop himself from pursuing his dreams.
“I had a bunch of buddies going and it was something I wanted to get into, so I went. It’s hard to explain the amount of adrenaline pulsing through you. It’s crazy,” Ty laughed.
To receive a qualified ride for bull riding, there are a few rules that have to be followed.
The first rule is that a cowboy must ride the bull for eight seconds.
According to Ty, the eight second time clock starts “As soon as the bull breaks the plane, by that they mean leaving the chute. Any part of him that leaves the chute makes the clock start.”
The second rule is that a cowboy must keep one hand up in the air at all times and this hand may not touch the rider or the bull. If the hand comes in contact with anything, the rider does not receive a score.
“It’s pretty simple, just keep one free hand in the air and it can’t touch the bull at any time and make it to eight,” Ty said.
The cowboys hold onto the bull, by wrapping one hand up in the bull rope. These wraps can differ, depending on what experience the rider has or what the cowboy prefers to use.
“I started out with a butterfly pretty much like everybody else, you fold the rope back over the rope itself and hold onto that. I went with a standard wrap throughout my career, which is once it goes through your hand you go back around the back side of your hand and back through your hand,” Ty said.
According to Ty, bells are also used on the bull rope.
“It’s kind of a weight to make the rope fall off when you fall off,” Ty stated.
A bull rider also has certain equipment that they wear while riding.
“All you really need is a vest, spurs, a glove, and a helmet. Anybody born after 94 has to wear a helmet now,” Ty explained.
While riding a bull, the rider and the bull both receive a score on how they perform. Typically, there are two judges that determine how many points the rider and the bull receive. The score is only taken down for the rider if they manage to ride the bull for the full eight seconds.
“The rider gets scored on how in control he stays throughout a ride and the bull gets scored on how hard he is bucking,” Ty said.
When Ty first started riding bulls, he had little knowledge about the sport, but he was fortunate enough to find a mentor to help him out.
“I rode for about a year, not knowing what I was doing and then Levi Yoder, who is a local guy that used to ride as well, he got me started on drills I needed to do. By drills, I mean mimicking the moves that you make when you are on a bull and practicing those moves,” Ty said.
“I ended up on a pretty strict routine at the gym too. I was in the gym probably five or six days a week if I was home.”
Ty also went to a lot of practice pens at the beginning of his career, but later on he decided to not go to as many, so he did not risk injuring himself.
As a bull rider, Ty has not only competed at local rodeos, but he has competed on the professional level as well.
Ty has competed in the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA), which was one of his goals when he first began bull riding. He also competed in the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association (MRCA) finals in 2018 and 2019.
In 2018, Ty won the MRCA finals.
“That was just a goal I had for a long time,” Ty said.
“It was a big payoff for me. I was pretty excited.”
Ty has some advice for individuals who are thinking about becoming a bull rider.
“It’s dedication,” Ty said.
“It takes a lot of work and you have to find the guys that know what they are doing and get their routine down. Copy what the greats are doing and stick to it.”
One of the things that Ty enjoys about bull riding is the freedom it gave him over the years.
“I was blessed with a pretty healthy career and I was able to support myself and my family while enjoying what I do,” Ty said.
In 2021, Ty retired from professional bull riding.
“I’d like to stay involved with rodeo because it’s been a lot to me, but I’m not sure if that’s the path I am going to take or not,” Ty said.
Bull riding is not for the faint of heart because it is an extreme, taxing, and dangerous sport. However, a cowboy is dedicated to riding. That is his job, and his courage in the arena helps inspire others to pursue their own dreams and ambitions.