Longest eight seconds: Inside a bull rider's head

WHAT A SHOW: Don't miss the toughest show on dirt this year.
WHAT A SHOW: Don't miss the toughest show on dirt this year. Phillip Wittke

LET'S put the jaw-dropping intensity of this dangerous sport into perspective.

A second is such a fleeting moment in time - there are 10,800 of them in a single day - yet it's in these brief increments that an elite bull rider can take stock of his career and measure his success.

In eight-second clips, interrupted by countless hours of travel, too many hotel meals and years of hot, dusty arenas, a rider either makes a living or falls short.

In less than the time it's taken to read this far into this story, he can go from zero to the top of the world.

All he has to do is stay on that bucking bull for eight seconds. But, to make it, he needs to be in top mental and physical shape.

There's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes for him to be ready. The rules at the heart of bull riding are pretty simple.

One hand grips a rope tied to the bull.

The other hand is air bound - if it touches the bull or rider, he's disqualified.

If the rider stays on for eight seconds, he earns points, and possibly money.

Sounds simple, but the sheer determination, grit and fearlessness it takes is out of this world.

These men have nerves of steel, and iron wills.

Entire careers can be made or lost in those eight seconds, and it's a hard living.

There's no dental plan, riders pay their travel and accommodation expenses, and only winner's take home the pay cheques.

It's a tough world, and you got to be tough to make it.

Only the strong survive.

Billed as the toughest sport on dirt, bull riding is dominated by riders from Brazil, the US, Australia, Canada and Mexico.

"There aren't a lot of people out there wanting to put stickers on riders," said PBR General Manager Glen Young.

"That's what we're trying to get ahead of with tours like this - get some TV exposure with quality events, and get sponsors on these cowboys so they can have a little more money in their pockets."

Not forgotten in all this are the bulls that, similar to the riders, are studied and ranked.

True bull riding enthusiasts know the bulls as well as the cowboys, and as often as not are likely to cheer them on.

"A lot of the bulls have more fans than some of cowboys," said Mr Young.

"Some bulls even have their own merchandise. We really have two athletes competing in the arena and they're both trained to do this."

The bulls account for half of a rider's score, and so cowboys typically want to be paired against the toughest ones. Whether the bull is a spinner coming out of the chute and which way it's likely to turn is what the rider studies beforehand.

"It's just like a boxer going in the ring," said Mr Young.

"You got to be ready for anything and everything."

A successful ride lasts eight seconds because that's how long a bull can effectively buck for.

"During those eight seconds there's no time to think about anything but riding,” he said.

"Your senses are on high alert. Those eight seconds are entirely relative to what's going on in the rider's head.

”If you get at the end of your arm or in a bad spot and you're just holding on, it can seem like two minutes waiting on that whistle.

"Other times you'll have a good seat and you could sit there all day, and the time goes fast."

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