What's it like to ride a bull?

Tyler Thomson is bucked from his bull during the bull riding event at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo on July 4, 2015. ARYN TOOMBS / CALGARY HERALD

SAMMY HUDES, CALGARY HERALD

Published on: October 12, 2015

Bull rider Tyler Thomson from Black Diamond at Bull Bustin PBR event at Ranchmans on July 2, 2013. COLLEEN DE NEVE /  CALGARY HERALD

A third-generation cowboy, Tyler Thomson of Black Diamond grew up at the rodeo so, naturally, he become a professional bull rider himself. 

The 34-year-old has been bull riding since he was 14 and, in the course of a 20-year career, has won multiple Canadian championships while also competing in international competitions in Brazil, the United States, Mexico and Australia. Planning to retire this fall, Thomson made one last stop this past summer at the Calgary Stampede, where he competes every year. The Herald caught up with him to find out what’s it like to be a bull rider.

Q: For somebody who is new to watching or even trying bull riding, what’s the trick? What do you need to do to succeed?

A: It’s the combination of strength and balance. There’s really strong guys that could lift the roof off of this building but, unless he’s got the balance, the co-ordination to put all of those muscles to work at the right time, it won’t matter how strong you are.

Q: Is it ever scary when you’re up there?

A: It used to scare me. As you get older you realize that the bulls that aren’t bucking as hard and really are not that mean, they’re just as likely to hurt a guy as any of them. They’re all dangerous.

Q: Have you had any close calls, any injuries?

A: Absolutely, and anybody that’s been in this sport for more than 20 bulls has been hurt. Knock on wood, I’ve never been seriously injured, but my knees have both been torn out and had to be reconstructed. I’ve had 12 different surgeries on my knees to date and had an ankle reconstructed, separated shoulders. I mean, it’s a brutal, tough sport and I don’t sometimes know why the hell we do it. I know I’m gonna hurt a lot when I’m 60 years old, but I wouldn’t give it back for anything.

Q: What’s going through your mind when you’re on a bull?

A: It just depends on the bull. It’s a matter of going move for move with them and just being a tick of a second ahead of them. There’s not a lot of thought while you’re up there, it’s just a lot of reaction.

Bull rider Tyler Thomson from Black Diamond at Bull Bustin PBR event at Ranchmans on July 2, 2013. COLLEEN DE NEVE /  CALGARY HERALD

Q: What’s it like to be thrown off a bull?

A: Climb up a 10-foot ladder and jump off. Your adrenalin’s going so hard that it’s kind of like being in a fist fight. You don’t really feel it until after. There are days where it really hurts and there are days where you step off on your feet and walk back to the chutes and don’t even have a bead of sweat on you.

Q: I think everyone has sort of an image of how an NHL player prepares for what they do. But how do you prepare for this?

A: My routine, I would expect, is a lot like a hockey player. A really good warm-up and stretch before, get a light sweat on and then just calm yourself and be ready. Every athlete is a little bit different. I know that when they crack the gate that my body’s going to take over and be able to react to things. The calmer I am, the better, I think.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Twitter.com/SammyHudes