Picture this. You’re slipped inside a small chute, on top of an enormous, 1,500-pound bull. The only way for you to hold on to the animal is by wrapping your hand — one hand — around a thin braided rope. Your only task: hold on for eight seconds. The chute opens. The countdown begins.
Professional bull riding is not for the faint of heart. This is a truth Michael Gaffney, former world champion and co-founder of the Professional Bull Riders Inc., knows all too well.
Gaffney is the head coach of the Austin Gamblers, the Capital City’s brand new pro bull riding team. The Gamblers, who are headed into their second season this summer, are also the subject of a new Amazon Prime series titled “The Ride.”
The show premieres today — here’s what you need to know about the Austin Gamblers and the sport of bull riding before watching.
Turning bull riding into a team sport
Gaffney moved to Austin without intending to work with local bull riders, arriving in the Capital City just under two years ago to support his son’s soccer career.
“I was just going to devote most of my time to my two boys,” he said. “But then, this falls into my lap.”
The owners of the Gamblers approached Gaffney with an enticing proposition: Coach bull riders in a new, first-of-its-kind team series.
“I can’t deny that I was excited about it,” Gaffney recalled. “We’ve never done that before.”
Origin of the Gamblers
The Gamblers were founded in 2021 as one of eight teams in PBR’s inaugural Team Series. Last summer, the riders competed as the first ever pro sports tenants in downtown’s Moody Center. The team includes some star competitors, including No. 2-ranked Jose Vitor Leme, No. 5-ranked Dalton Kasel, and rising star Ezekiel Mitchell.
The stories, motivations and trials of these athletes, as well as others in the league, are the primary subject of “The Ride.”
“They’re real human beings, they’re dealing with a lot of really, really scary things,” Gaffney explained. “And this is no picnic, and even though they love what they do, it’s very, very dangerous. … [The show] is kind of exciting for me, because it showcases this sport that I grew up in, and love.”
Thirty years of PBR
This year is the 30th anniversary of Professional Bull Riders, and Gaffney is excited by the prospect of “The Ride” sharing more about the sport he loves.
Recalling the nascent days of PBR — when the league was founded in a mop closet by a handful of twenty-somethings with $1,000 checks — Gaffney notes that’s what PBR has always been about.
“We believed as long as we stuck together, brought the best bulls and the best cowboys every time, we’d guarantee our fans that we could deliver a product to the masses that would have them coming back,” he said.
The second Gambler Days series is scheduled to take place at the Moody Center from Friday, Aug. 25-Sunday, Aug. 27.
In addition to watching the Gamblers compete live, attendees will have access to live music and a western lifestyle expo. Get tickets online.