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