It wasn’t long before breeders found that they didn’t really need riders to make money… The top bull could earn a quarter of a million dollars at a single event, and as the purses grew so did the sport’s attention to genetics. Ranchers once content to breed any bull that leaped around now turned to outcrossing and in vitro fertilization to select specific behaviors: the dropkick, the side spin, the twisting belly roll. The result was a succession of ever more powerful, more athletic, more murderous bulls. The only question was who could ride them.

The change has been especially hard on young riders. Their learning curve gets steeper every year, and there are fewer and fewer ordinary animals for them to practice on. “These kids that are eleven, twelve, thirteen years old—they’re getting on bulls that we never saw until we were pros.”

Is there a limit to how dangerous a bull can or should be? “I hope not,” he said. “Because I intend on making one that’s a whole lot ranker than we’ve had before.” He smirked. “You know the bad thing? We can’t breed cowboys. If you could figure out how to get a set of women and three or four sires that had all that heart and the other ingredients that it takes, then you could match the sires and the dams up like we do the bulls. Then maybe we’d have a great bull rider.” In the meantime, there’s only one alternative: start them young.

-Bull riding has never been a safe sport, but today, getting hurt is a matter of when, not if. Burkhard Bilger delves into what keeps kids getting back on the bull at The New Yorker.

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