Strong Like Bull

Getting Inside the Mind of a Bull Rider


April 17, 2015 Videos By Photo by Joris Debeij

Growing up on the other side of the pond, filmmaker Joris Debeij was entranced by the iconic Hollywood movie cowboys that fought the unruly vandals of America’s Wild West. Recognizing that this dramatized version of an uninhibited land could no longer be found, Debeij set out to find the next closest thing. What he found was Gary Leffew, 1970 World Champion bull rider.

“I was always wild ‘n’ reckless, kinda a free spirit, and I didn’t know if I was going to fit it in society”, Gary recalls, “so once I found rodeo and I found bull riding, it was the perfect scenario.” In a sport that requires as much a strong body as a strong will, Leffew’s approach, in theory, seems simple. “You can’t fit to ride on a animal like this without finding his center — and to find his center you must go through your own.” He explains that the bull knows its job — it’s bred to buck you off, and therefore its heart and adrenaline peak the same way yours would. “How you hand that mentally”, says Leffew, “is going to determine whether you become successful at it or you become a failure at it.”

Now in his early 70s, Gary looks to pass along this mental approach to future generations of the sport. “I always tell my students, don’t hang around with people who make a bull sound impossible… he’ll tell you all the reasons why you can’t ride him. Yet, you walk over to a winner”, Gary disputes, “and he goes ‘You got him? That’s the one I wanted!'”