So You Want To Be A Cowboy

Where: Locations across the U.S.A.

He weighs two tons and he's really, really angry that you're sitting on top of him. But you can handle this bull -- you think. After all, you've had a few days of instruction at one of America's top ranked bull-riding clinics, and when that chute opens, you'll be ready for the ride of your life.

Lyle Sankey has been teaching rodeo skills like bull riding, team roping, and bareback bronco riding to professional competitors for years at his rodeo school in Branson, Mossouri. He's now expanded his offerings to engage participants in a bull riding "Vision Quest" experience that lets novices try their hand at one of rodeo's most demanding events. Depending on the venue and schedule chosen, these camps can last from one to four days, and include both classroom time, rides on the mechanical bull and, finally, the real thing: a bull whose size and temperament is matched to your age, athletic ability, and ambitions -- you hope.

Participants are welcome to bring their own equipment if they have it, and instructors will evaluate and tune it up as needed; otherwise, the Sankey schools are willing to loan you their equipment. (The exception is boots -- if you don't already own them, consider buying a good pair of Western boots with a relatively flat shank.) And you will also be required to have medical insurance, for reasons that are obvious; if you don't already have insurance, Sankey schools can put you in contact with providers of short-term medical insurance.

Bull riding takes a special kind of energy and ambition, but it's not limited by gender -- both men and women are welcome at these schools, and female students from Sankey have excelled to the point that they have been featured as bronc riders in music videos. All ages are welcome as well; students from seven to 70 have enrolled. And if you're just not sure you're ready to ride that bull, the "ground school" option lets you participate in everything, including the mechanical bull, until you're ready to tackle the real thing.

Information: Sankey Rodeo School (tel. 417/334-2513;

When to Go: Open year-round; check website for dates and locations.