A bull named Kiss Psycho Circus lumbered off a tractor-trailer into a makeshift corral in front of Madison Square Garden, where he was going to be ridden in the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) Monster Energy Buck Off.
The bovine looked around and blinked twice. For all his alleged ferocity, he appeared more dazed and confused by The Big City.
Dazed and confused pretty much sums up my attitude about bull riding, too.
Why would anyone in his or her right mind willingly get on a hostile 2,000-pound animal? Unless, of course, the rider is involved with a death cult.
At 1,715 pounds, Kiss Psycho Circus—OK, if I shorten it to Kiss?—is rather diminutive by riding-bull standards. I know his precise tonnage because the excuse for his appearance was a weigh-in to promote the Buck Off over the weekend; I suppose bulls tip the scales to great fanfare in much the same way heavyweight boxers do before a title bout.
One of the riders, Matt Triplett of Columbia Falls, Mont., also hit the scales and registered at a more modest 165 pounds—fully clothed.
Since the bull wasn’t granting interviews and I didn’t stray too close to his pen, I decided to talk with Mr. Triplett instead.
I had more confidence that the rider wouldn’t fly into a rage, break free and rampage up Eighth Avenue. Indeed the beast, and his humbled circumstances, triggered a troubling association: The shackled King Kong at the moment the giant ape was introduced to the world.
As I said, my main interest was in discovering why someone would volunteer to ride an animal that nature clearly never intended to give rides.
But Mr. Triplett, who is ranked fourth among PBR competitors, questioned my very hypothesis.
“They’re athletes, just like the rider is,” he explained of the bulls. “They’re bred like race horses. It’s bred in their genes to buck just like a racehorse is to run. They love their job just as much as we do.”
I was almost as curious about Mr. Triplett as I was the bull. He told me that he took his first bull ride when he was 12 years old. He’s 23 now.
“He bucked me off,” remembered Mr. Triplett, whose father was also a bull rider and who supervised that session. “I was tired of getting a steer.”
I frankly thought a bull was a steer. Mr. Triplett had to explain everything to me. A steer is castrated, a bull isn’t, the rider told me—in somewhat more colorful language.
“I told my dad he had to load me a bull,” Mr. Triplett recalled, returning to his inaugural ride. “I lasted four seconds. But it was the best adrenaline rush of my life.”
The other cowboy who attended the weigh-in—I’m not sure arena bull riders meet the dictionary definition of cowboys, but the men were, after all, wearing ten-gallon hats—was L.J. Jenkins of Oklahoma City.
Mr. Jenkins explained, contrary to what I assumed, that a ride’s potentially most dangerous time comes before it even begins. (The goal is for the rider to stay aboard the bull for 8 seconds.) That moment is when bull and rider are locked into the “bucking chute,” waiting to go before the crowd.
“They can start bucking with that steel all around us,” Mr. Jenkins explained. “You get guys who get knocked out.”
Mr. Jenkins said a rider will risk a bull prone to mayhem in the chute if he promises a superior ride, one that follows a predictable pattern: “Sometimes bulls who are bad in there, they’re so good outside of there—a bull you can get a good score on.”
The 27-year-old Mr. Jenkins went on: “I’ve broken my ribs, punctured my lung” and something about his liver, “all in one day.”
It happened in 2006 when a bull stepped on him but once. “This sport is getting hurt,” he explained.
Mr. Jenkins added the accident occurred after he couldn’t disentangle himself from his rope and got pulled under the bull. He didn’t blame the bull.
“There is nothing I could have done,” he said. “There is nothing the bull could have done. We’re going to get hurt. It’s just when and how bad.”
Mr. Triplett also has broken body parts and suffered a couple of concussions.
I would have thought the career choice of these young men might make it a challenge for them to find mates. But the competitors say it’s just the opposite.
Indeed, Mr. Jenkins was accompanied by his fiancée, Christen Dye, a model, who compared watching him ride to having a heart attack.
“It was more his personality,” said Ms. Dye, who met her husband-to-be at a PBR event when she was working for Monster Energy. “I thought it was really cool when he had a good personality.”
As Mr. Jenkins put it, modestly: “It’s the cowboy way, I guess.”
Added Mr. Triplett: “We’re getting on the wildest animals in the world. We’re adrenaline junkies. Girls like that.”