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Stationary Barrel Drills

By Dustin Elliott

What is the most basic move you must do to successfully ride a bull? You must get to the front! From the easiest steer to ride to the rankest bull, getting to the front is essential. How can you improve your skills to do this on a more consistent basis? Drills, drills, drills, and more drills.

When I was younger I wrestled. I started when I was five years old and competed all through high school. After wrestling for nine years, my freshman year of high school we started for two weeks learning a half nelson. Those of you that wrestle and maybe some that don’t know what the half nelson is. That is the first pinning combination move you learn the very first year you wrestle. I coach wrestling now as my son is involved and in his first year and every year so far, we work on the half nelson.

With all that said, as a freshman in high school and have wrestled for many years to that point I thought it was ridiculous that we spent so much time on such a basic move. Why? What that does is it burns that move into your muscle memory. It becomes a reaction instead of a thought. You don’t need to think about what you need to do, your body just does it.

How does this relate to bull riding you ask? Getting to the front is the move you must make. In wrestling you have a partner that will let you work on the half nelson and not resist during drills. Bulls really don’t unless you know you have dinks. Most bull riders don’t have a plethora of practice bulls for their ability level sitting in their back yards. So what can you do?

When I started riding I was in Jr High. I grew up in the middle of town, no horses, no bulls, not even a 4H steer. I improvised because I knew I wanted to ride bulls. At that time Mesquite Championship Rodeo was on TNN. That station doesn’t exist anymore, but that’s what I had. So I got a 55 gallon barrel, put carpet on it, and put it in my dads living room. We recorded on VHS, which some of you may not even know what that is, every Mesquite Rodeo I could. Then the PBR started to be broadcast on that channel as well and that gave me more videos to watch. So I would sit in his living room and watch tapes and sat on a barrel that didn’t move.

I couldn’t tell you how many thousands of bulls that I rode in my dads living room. And I mean thousands. I actually wore the carpet out and later my dad made some funny comments about that but that’s what it takes. If you want to do something bad enough you find a way. Now looking back, at the time I was playing and just doing what I could, but actually knowing now I was practicing the absolute best way possible for my ability level. Getting on bulls and getting bucked off isn’t fun, especially for a beginner. You must build confidence or you won’t go on with it. I am seeing it in a lot of youth sports as my kids are very active in all sports. There are a lot of kids playing that you can tell have never caught a pass, or kicked a soccer ball until their parents signed them up and expect them to dominate. Then part way through the season you can tell the kid doesn’t want to play anymore because its not fun. You have to put the time in to be successful and build the confidence and have fun.

Having a stationary barrel costs you very little to nothing. I didn’t have much when I was a kid. But I could find an old barrel. You don’t need to have practice bulls to practice. You can practice every day with no help, no gate men, no bull fighters, no bulls, nothing. And for most, at all skill levels, you need this type of practice. Everyone has heard the saying, “bull riding is 90% mental, 10% physical.” When doing stationary drills you are honing your mental skills. Perfect form, visualization, and you will never get bucked off. You will build confidence create good habits with no excuses of, that bull did this, the gate man, the stock contractor, the bla bla bla.

So what drills do you need to do? What all can you do with a barrel on the floor? I call it the six inch drill. Your body doesn’t move more than six inches. You can only ride as hard as the bull is bucking. Look at it this way, if a bull jumps out and stops, you’re not going to be driving over the front and rocking back to set your hips to keep the weight on your legs, then driving back to the front to meet the rear again and driving your shoulder around as he turns back. You will sit there and wait for him to move again. The barrel isn’t moving! But for the purpose of the drill you are going to move six inches, and only six inches. And I can’t emphasize PERFECT FORM enough! This drill is for creating good habits. There should be no reason you are on your pockets or have a “C” in your back. You should have perfect form. Use your legs, not your riding hand to push, to get off your pockets and drive the front. There should be a little daylight under your butt and the barrel. Keep your chest out in front of your rope with your back straight and shoulders square. Because like is said, the barrel isn’t bucking, perfect form!

How long do you drill? I know doing this for very long will get boring. That’s why I had it in the living room and watched bull riding. I would sit for hours at a time. If it was nice outside I’d move it outside and ride it for a while, 10-20 minutes. Take a break and come back. I had it in a spot that I walked by it and saw it, held myself accountable to ride it. You can’t ride this too much. In fact, more professionals need to ride a stationary barrel too. NFL players still practice with just helmets and tshirts, no pads, and receivers run ghost routes, linemen blow out of their 3 point stance and hit the dummy for a short burst. They do this every week!

Use this drill to begin creating good habits at a slow pace. Even though doing this may get boring you will notice the moves will improve. By getting on practice bulls only, it won’t slow down enough to even understand what your body is doing wrong. Take this most elementary drill and improve. If you’re alone, record it and watch it back. Look at what you look like, then watch videos on and see what those body positions are. Compare them to yours and see if you’re doing it correct.

Everyone can ride bulls if they want it bad enough. You have to put the time in. This drill, money is not an excuse, and if you want it bad enough you will make the time to practice.

Dustin Elliott