The first time Garret Lange got thumped by a bull (thumped and then run over), he discovered something about bull riding that should have been obvious: It's a mental game.
"You have to conquer the mind," says Lange, a 28-year-old rider and Kingsburg native who will compete in front of a hometown crowd at the Professional Bull Riders Velocity tour at the Save Mart Center on Saturday.
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Bull riders have to be in great physical shape, of course, and there are balance issues and some movements that are specific to staying atop an animal that weighs 2,000 pounds and wants you off its back.
All of that came pretty naturally to Lange, who didn't start riding until he was 17 years old. He got on 10 bulls his first weekend out.
It was a couple weeks later that a young, nervous bull ran him over.
The fear set in.
"It starts messing with your head a little bit," Lange says.
To keep his mind occupied before a ride, Lange falls into a routine. He sets up his gear the same way every time and recites a mantra in his head while he's sitting in the chute.
"Stay in time with him," he says.
"Stay in time."
Adrenaline junkies for the win
Of course, the fear is part of what gets Lange up on the bulls, sometimes against his better judgment.
"It's an adrenaline junky kind of thing," he says. Before bulls, Lange raced BMX.
One of the best rides of his career was on a bull named Harlem Shuffle.
"I actually watched that bull knock out two of my friends," Lange says. He'd been asked to ride the bull in a charity event and politely declined.
"I didn’t want anything to do with him."
But a couple of months later he was at a competition and drew Harlem Shuffle to ride.
"I had to get on him."
He won the event, with a score of 88.5 out of 100.
Sometimes, the bulls win. Lange hasn't been hurt too badly, but he's been knocked down "more than a few times." He's broken some ribs, had a concussion or two.
He's seen worse. One of his good friends and fellow riders recently got jerked down and went head-to-head with a bull.
He's learning to walk again. He is likely done with the sport, Lange says, though he wouldn't rule out the guy getting back on a bull one day.
"It’s that addicting."
This ain't no rodeo
Lange competes in both rodeo and PBR events. It's a distinction that needs to be made, he says, especially for those who have never seen a PBR event. Here, fans get two hours of straight competition with some of the best bulls (and riders) in the sport (there's also plenty of great music, Lange says).
The bulls just buck harder, he says. More than that is the knowledge that everyone competing is as good as you are. Or better.
"It's another mind deal."
PBR’s Real Time Pain Relief Velocity tour
Six other noteworthy events happening this week: