Hanging on for 8 seconds is an accomplishment for professional bull riders. Cody Heffernan, Australia’s number one bull rider, is an up and comer on the tour. We caught up with him to discuss how he got into the sport, and how he mentally prepares for strapping his hand to a one thousand kilo animal.
How’s it going, mate? Can you tell us what you’re doing here in New York?
We’re in New York City for the 2nd stop on the Built Ford Tough Series, the top tour in the world, and I’m excited to be here.
Have you been to New York before?
Never been to New York. It’s a bit different—you definitely wouldn’t catch me driving in New York City; it’s crazy.
What does Madison Square Garden mean to you?
It’s a historic venue. I’m excited to ride here. There’s been a lot of big events here—Muhammad Ali fought here.
How did you get into rodeo?
My brother rode when he was younger, and I followed suit. Then he gave it up, and I kept going with it, and now I’m one of the top 35 bull riders in the world.
Do you remember the first time you rode a bull?
The first time I rode was when I was about 4 or 5, on a little calf. My brother chucked me on and I fell off and started crying, but I enjoyed it, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What’s life like as a bull rider?
Right now I’m on the cusp, so I’m not sure where I’m going to be next weekend. I could be in Oklahoma City, or I could be at a smaller event in Tacoma, Washington. So I just book flights and motels a week in advance. It’s a crazy lifestyle, but you get used to it.
Tell us a little about bull riding—what do you like about it?
It’s a crazy sport. Sometimes I wake up, and I think, Jeez, I ride bulls, that’s one of the maddest things you can do. Why would somebody want to tie their hand to a thousand kilo animal? But I love it. It’s a huge adrenalin rush.
Walk us through your mindset when you’re tying your hand in.
You can’t be scared, you gotta hop up and get on and give it all you got. But you don’t want to be too pumped up. You have to not psych yourself out, keep calm, keep breathing.
What’s your preparation like?
I like to get ready 45 minutes before: put a bit of rosin on your rope, put your spurs on, and tell yourself how much you want to win.
And what about right before you step out into the arena?
You chap up, grab your bull rope, come out for the rider introductions, and from there it’s all go. Your bull runs in, you slap yourself on the face a few times, and then let it all hang out.
The entire ride is never much more than 8 seconds long. What are those 8 seconds like?
Once you put your hand in the rope it’s all reaction. You don’t have time to think. The bull comes out and goes left, you don’t have time to think, “Oh I gotta make a move to the left.” It’s all reaction. You have to be on the go, aggressive. I go into it like a boxing event: I want to win, and to win is to make that 8 seconds, so I’m gonna do whatever it takes.
Have you had some good falls over the years?
Every single bull rider has a story. There’s always bumps, bruises, close calls, and near misses. Everyone’s got broken bones and sore spots, but that’s part of it. You ride bulls, you have to expect that to happen.
What’s it like when you clear those 8 seconds?
Hearing that bell at 8 seconds signifies that I won the battle and I get a score. It’s definitely a bonus. You’ve got an internal clock. Last weekend in Chicago I was probably at 8.01 seconds—I felt like that whistle was about to go and I got thrown off. I know I could have hung to the bull for that extra half second, but my internal clock said it was time to get off, so I got off and luckily it was after the 8 seconds.
Do all the Aussies on tour get along? Is there anything about Aussie riders that separates them from the rest?
Yeah, all of us Aussie boys are mates. We don’t mind hanging down to the side just to get a score, that’s for sure.
What about New York—did you wear your hat around the city?
Yeah, I did. Got a few looks but everyone’s been friendly. I did the tourist thing, took a lot of photos—there’s some characters here in New York City.
Thanks mate, good luck.