Oh the Research!

I think I win the award for the weirdest research trip ever. Don’t believe me? Read on.

I wrote a Women’s Fiction, Days Made of Glass. My main character is a woman bullfighter. Not the Spanish cape-and-tights kind, the American rodeo kind. When a bull rider is thrown, these guys step between a ticked-off bull and the downed rider.

Yeah, in a word – NUTS.

To my knowledge, there has never been a female professional bullfighter, so the concept and potential for conflict intrigued me for a long time. I was dying to write that book.

As a two-decade-long fan of bull riding, I know everything that could possibly be gleaned from watching it on TV, seeing events in person and talking to bull riders. I corresponded with several bullfighters, who generously offered to answer my questions (the photo above is of one of them). But to write about a woman who attends a bullfighting school, I would need to know a lot more.

Have I told you how much I love the internet?  I looked up rodeo schools in Texas, and came across Lyle Sankey’s Rodeo School. I emailed him, and he wrote back right away, and told me to come on down!

Lyle Sankey (on the ground) and his staff.

My husband and I drove to New Caney, outside Houston, over a Memorial Day weekend. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I showed up at 8 am on Saturday armed with a notebook, pen and tons of questions.

I learned a lot of technique and strategy, not only about bullfighting, but all the rough stock events: bull riding, saddle bronc and bareback riding. Even if that was all I’d learned, it would have made the trip worthwhile.

But I learned so much more.

The students ranged from 7 (!) to their mid-thirties. There were two girls. Some students wanted to do this for a living, some wanted to try it for the adventure. Lyle and his staff were amazing. Teaching someone to ride a bull requires more than just knowledge — the instructors were constantly watching to be sure that the student wasn’t only listening, but hearing. When you’re scared out of your mind, you don’t pay as close attention as you would otherwise. Many times I heard the bull-riding coach say, “Stop! Look at me.” Then, in a calm voice, he’d make sure that what he was saying sank in. After every ride the coach would go over with the student what he did right, what he did wrong and how to do better the next time.

First, lots of practice

7-year-old Carl, stretches before his ride.

The transformation in the students in three days was amazing. Not only in their skills, but I could see their confidence and self-esteem rise, hour by hour.

Lyle was teaching life lessons along with bull riding. At one point, a teen was getting ready and the bull leaned on his foot against the back of the chute. He whined. Lyle admonished him: “It’s time to Cowboy Up. That isn’t just a slogan on the bumper of a pickup, you know.” The kid was embarrassed and mad. He rode for two jumps, was bucked off and stomped out of the arena. Lyle followed him, talking the whole way. The kid wasn’t buying it. Lyle went back again ten minutes later, when the kid had calmed down and was more likely to listen.

You can’t pay someone to care that much. Lyle is a special man, who really cares about people.

In listening to Buddy Bush, the bullfighting coach, I learned more about what a rodeo life is. They are basically dirt-road gypsies. The life is much harder than I’d realized. But watching Buddy’s face as he told me stories, I could see how much he loves it. He believes he’s the luckiest guy out there. Isn’t that what everyone’s looking for?

Me, with Buddy Bush, Bull fighter and coach

Thanks to the research, and Lyle Sankey, the bullfighting in my book will be authentic.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I didn’t get on a bull, or in the arena with one.But if I were twenty years younger, I would have!

This is the book that came from that research: https://books2read.com/u/b6rz2J

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Laura Drake is a New York and self-published published author of Women's Fiction and Romance.
Her romance series, Sweet on a Cowboy, is set in the world of professional bull riding. Her debut, The Sweet Spot, was a double-finalist, then won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award. She’s since published 12 more books. She is a founding member of Women's Fiction Writers Assn, as well as a member of Western Writers of America and Women Writing the West.
Laura is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She's a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.

22 thoughts on “Oh the Research!”

  1. This is great Laura. Coming from a rodeo family, I admire you for taking the time to go learn from true Rodeo cowboys how they do things daily. I can’t wait until your book’s is released. Please keep me up to date on the title and release date. Congrats on such a fun research expedition.

  2. Good morning! I Loved this blog! I love Bull Riding it is one of my favorite rodeo events to watch and bull fighters amaze me! The adrenaline it produces just watching the event leaves me in awe of what it must be like to be an actual bull rider or being on the ground dodging and taunting that bull and protecting the bull rider! I’m actually friends with with a few bull riders and think they’re half crazy and they’re not the ones on the ground taunting and dodging the bulls! I can’t even imagine being a bull fighter and the mindset it takes to want to be one! I guess it’s for the adrenaline junkies in the world. I don’t think most people even stop to think of the athleticism it takes to be a bull fighter! I bet attending that bull fighting clinic was beyond awesome! There are actually female bull fighters! The majority aren’t from the U.S. but there are two. Better Ford (in her 90’s now) was an actress that turned bullfighter (wowza) and Patricia McCormick (has passed away at 83 in 2013). This blog made me think of the running of the bulls, another crazy bull involved event!

    • Thanks for reading! I know a lot of rodeo wives fight for their husbands in practice pens at home,too. To give you an idea of how dangerous it is – I talked to Rob Smets, one of the greats, and he told me that after the 11th time he broke his neck, his wife said she’d leave him if he didn’t retire.

      Yeah, crazy.

    • And being that close to the arena, feeling the thundering hooves, sigh. I think if my husband wouldn’t have been there to stop me, I might have gotten in with a bull!

  3. Wow this is some cool research. It must be so much more rewarding and exciting when you can research in person like this. Growing up on a farm, we were always preparing for rodeos year round. I have a lot of respect for these women and men who do rodeos. I got to be a part of rodeos for a hand full of years as a barrel racer. I was all of 90 lbs and my palomino and I would fly around those barrels. I learned to stick like a burr. LOL I will always remember those days.

  4. Laura … I love your zeal for life and authenticity! Thank you for such an interesting blog today. Fun to read.

  5. Wow, what a fun and interesting research you did! I bet it was really something watching them ride and listening to what the trainer had to say! Your book sounds like a great read, I love the Title and I love the book cover! Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Have a Great weekend and stay safe. God Bless you and your family.

  6. What a great experience. I am glad you decided to do first hand research. I am surprised there haven’t been any women bull fighters yet. Maybe we are too smart to intentionally run around begging an irate bull to chase us. It must have been fascinating to see everything that goes in to the spectrum of rodeo event participation and support. It certainly sounds like this group has the skills, attitude, and understanding to be good instructors. I will have to say, I doubt I would let a 7 year old in the ring for bull riding. Did he ride a full sized rodeo bull? I hope your book inspires some young women to give bull fighting a try. As with many other things, they often do a better job than expected.
    Thank you for an interesting post. Take good care of yourself staying safe and healthy.

    • Thank you, Patricia. Women’s bones break easier than men’s. As one of my characters in the book said, ‘He’s wood – he dents. You’re glass. You shatter.’ Yes the 7 year old got on a full-sized bull. But I’m sure they pick bulls that aren’t mean by nature. Thanks for reading!

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