A rider mounts a bull and grips a flat braided rope. After he secures a good grip on the rope, the rider nods to signal he is ready. The bucking chute is opened and the rider must attempt to stay on the bull for at least eight seconds, while only touching the bull with his riding hand. His other hand must remain free for the duration of the ride. The bull bucks, rears, kicks, spins, and twists in an effort to throw the rider off. This continues for a number of seconds until the rider is bucked off or dismounts after completing his ride. To receive a score, a rider must stay on the bull for 8 seconds, which is announced by a loud buzzer.
Throughout the ride, bullfighters, also popularly known as rodeo clowns, stay near the bull in order to aid the rider if necessary. When the ride ends, either intentionally or not, the bullfighters distract the bull to protect the rider from harm.
Many competitions have a format that involves multiple rounds, sometimes called "Go-rounds". Generally, events span two to three nights. The rider is given a chance to ride one bull per night. The total points scored by the end of the event are recorded, and after the first or first two go-rounds, the top 20 riders are given a chance to ride one more bull. This final round is called the "Short go". After the end of the short go, the rider with the most total points wins the event.
The ride is scored from 0-100 points. Both the rider and the bull are awarded points. There are usually two judges, with each judge scoring the bull from 0-50 points, and the rider from 0-50 points. The combined point totals from both judges make up the final score for the ride. Scores of zero are quite common as a lot of riders lose control of the animal almost immediately after the bull rages out of the bucking chute. Many experienced professionals are able to gain scores of 75 or more. A score above 80 is considered excellent, and a score in the 90's is exceptional.