Monday, January 31, 2011

The 55 Gallon Drum Practice Bull

(c) 2011 by Tom King

During the great mechanical bull fad of the 70's and 80's, we East Texas denizens decided that ridin' a fake bull looked like a whole bunch of fun. Not being able to afford a $12,000 one like they have down at Gilley's, we looked around for ideas. Evidently a lot of us have old 55 gallon barrels sitting round our backyards and came up with the same idea. All of sudden saddles were strapped to barrels slung between trees and fence posts all over the piney woods.

Because we often didn't give safety a high priority, a lot of us wound up in various emergency rooms with an assortment of cuts, scratches, fractures and abrasions. Over the years, in my work as a recreation therapist, day care director, youth director and teacher, I learned a bit about playground safety. I applied those lessons in playground safety to the bull barrel device and here's what I came up with.  While not 100% without risk, it is far safer than those early examples we strung up in trees (sometimes a little higher up in trees than was wise.  Here's how to build the Barrel Bull.  Enjoy!

___55 gallon barrel with lid
___4 large eye bolts with short shafts, 4 nuts, 8 flat washers and  4 lock washers
___ 4 Heavy duty boat hooks
___ 5/8 inch heavy duty rope (grass or nylon - avoid polyethelene)
___4 large eyebolts with 6 inch shaft with 4 nuts and 8 flat washers and 4 lock washers
___Pipe insulation
___4 heavy duty 4x4 posts 10 feet long
___Concrete mix and pea gravel
___Western saddle

First things first:
Drill holes large enough to fit the short shaft eyebolts.

Bolt the eye bolts in the positions shown in pictures. Put a flat washer on the outside and inside of the barrel and the lock washer on the inside of the barrel next to the nut to hold it in place.  Tighten the heck out of it.

Put the lid on the barrel. Put the keeper ring over the lid and top ridge of the barrel and bolt it in place. For safety, place the bolt assembly that tightens the lid on the bottom of the barrel so you don't bang your head on it.

Dig 4 holes three feet deep or find 4 big trees evenly spaced at least 15 feet from the barrel in a big rectangle with the barrel in the center.  If you use posts, dig the postholes wider at the bottom than at the top to hold the concrete in the ground firmly - sort of a posthole oubliette. It will take you more concrete than you thing.

Set the posts in the holes. Put six inches of pea gravel around the bottom of the posts.  Mix up the concrete in a wheelbarrow and pour it into the holes to a depth of six inches below the dirt.

Drill holes through the posts and bolt the eye bolts with the long shafts in place with the eye toward the barrel. Again, place washers on both sides of the post and the lock washer next to the nut. Tighten.

If you use trees you can just screw lag eye bolts into the trees to hold the ropes. Don't loop the rope around the tree. It will rot and/or abraid and break more quickly.

Cut your rope in 4 pieces long enough to reach from the corner of the barrel to the support posts. Tie one end of each rope to the boat hooks clipped to the eye bolts on the barrel. Tie the other ends to a boat hook. Estimate the length at first. Get help to lift the barrel while you hook the ropes to the posts.  You may have to shorten the ropes a bit several times to even out the barrel. It should be suspended with the bottom two and a half feet above the ground.

Cut pieces of pipe insulation the length of each rope and wrap the insulation around the rope.  A couple of turns of duct tape at about 4 places along each piece of pipe insulation should hold it securely in place and protect you from rope burn or bumps. You can also use foam pool noodles in place of pipe insulation and it's better protection.

Tie the saddle to the barrel as tight as you can get it.  You'll have to retighten after every ride or so. 

Crash padding:
Two ways to address the fall safety issues:

1.  Old mattresses piled around underneath the barrel
2.  Scoop out a foot of dirt in a 10 foot circle around the barrel and overfill it with sawdust.
3.  Buy some tumbling crash pads

Instructions for use:
1. Put on a helmet.
2. Climb up in the saddle
3. 4 fiendish friends stand at the posts, one on each rope
4. The said 4 fiendish friends shake the ropes till you fall off. 
5.  If you want to make a competition of it get two 4 person teams. One team mans the ropes and the other team rides one at a time. Someone with a stopwatch times each ride, adds them all up and that's the team score. Which ever team has the longest time wins.

Alternative Approach:

What's really fun is to suspend the barrel over a lake or swimming pool and when you fall in you get wet. Make sure you have at least 10 feet of clearance on all sides from the barrel.

© 2011 by Tom King 

FYI:  I do not recommend any of this. You can hurt yourself, especially if your friends are sadistic buggers and delight in making you fall really hard.


  1. To ease the pain of any future lawyers I might be forced to employ, please be advised that this device is not OSHA approved and should be used with proper safety gear and at your own risk.

  2. Perfect for our soon to be 6 yr old son who has asked for a rodeo western themed party. He did ask for a real bull to ride! lol....I don't think so...but will have his Daddy make this! I love it....THanks for sharing!

    1. Just make sure the adults handling the ropes know that they should control the bucking movement so that the movement is not more than the kids can handle or they can hurt someone. This is a lot of fun until someone gets mean. Never trust teen-aged boys with the ropes. They will get someone hurt every time.

      You have to use some sense with this thing.

  3. How can I my son a spring bucking barrel for use when we can't help him

  4. How can I my son a spring bucking barrel for use when we can't help him

    1. Yep that’d be helpful . My 21 yr old be on it every chance he could !

  5. The shouldn't ride the barrel when you aren't there to spot. This is not playground equipment. I used it as part of recreational therapy. The kids wore helmets and pads. We had a thick springy under surface - usually straw. We had to loosen it up after every session. We unhooked the barrel and put it in the shed when we weren't using it. I wouldn't use it any other way.

  6. Too cool! Would like to have to improve my horseback riding seat, off the horse......My neighbors are gonna think I'm nuts hahaha. Oh well.

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  8. is this a good thing to use for bull riding ?

    1. Although this is great for little kids. If you built one for your kid to practice bull or steer riding I would not recommend it as practice for the real thing. I ride bulls and had a set up like this in order to train when I didn’t have access to real buckin stock at practice arenas. Although it was easy to build and was fun to mess around on it teaches extremely bad habits for a young rider. The main bad habit it will teach is not how to position yourself for the spin. All bulls will spin. Only uncertain thing is how hard they will spin. This form of a bucking barrel only rocks back and forth it don’t spin in a circle. So this teaches the rider to set in the middle of his back and trains his muscles only to react to a foward and back notation. Not a spinning side to side motion. So as I said if your little ones are doing it just for the fun of it by all means build one like this. But if your a young rider looking for somethin realistic to practice your reactions and form on do not do this. For young riders either buy a bucking barrel that’s mounted on a single pole that will either rock and spin with the motion of your body or with a handle on it so someone can do it for you.

  9. I don't think the Rodeo Association would approve it, but it gives the kids (and your drunken buddies) the illusion of bull riding if that's what you're going for.

    1. I'm working more on getting down to the tech. would you refer me to this method

  10. would adding springs do any bad or good

    1. Mount the barrel on a single post with springs and such so the barrel will rock back and fourth and spin. Which gives the whole around moment of a bull. Otherwise it teaches bad habits to young bull riders

  11. Will this still work safely if the top has been cut off the barrel?

  12. The lid and bottom stiffen the barrel. I wouldn't remove them.

  13. Hello, can you make a dyi of a bucking barrel with a single pole spring?

  14. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

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