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Bucking a trend, mechanical bulls make a comeback at KC bars

With perfect form – legs tight against the sides, upper body loose – Katt Kammalavong of Olathe tames El Toro, the mechanical bull at Orlando’s Crazy Horse.

Casey Lunceford keeps careful watch over the ride of a patron at Whiskey Tango in Grain Valley on a recent Saturday night. Lunceford operates the bar’s mechanical bull, Moonshine.

Who needs a cowboy hat? All John Gibson of Lee’s Summit needed to ride the bull at Whiskey Tango in Grain Valley was a belly full of liquid courage.

Alyson Fillpot of Independence rides a mechanical bull at Whiskey Tango in Grain Valley.

Just remember this: There is no graceful way to fall off. Here, mechanical bull Moonshine at Whiskey Tango gets the better of Courtney Yantis of Olathe.

Courtney Yantis of Olathe rides a mechanical bull at Whiskey Tango in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Ride ‘em cowboy! Alex Peacock of Lenexa tried to tame El Toro, the mechanical bull at Orlando’s Crazy Horse in Olathe, one recent Saturday night.

A mechanical bull named El Toro stands ready for the next rider at the Crazy Horse Bar in Olathe.

“If you have like no leg muscles you’re kind of screwed out there because you have to tighten your legs up and squeeze the bull like you’re trying to squeeze a lemon.” Alyssa Larson

Ink

When gal pals Jessie Mills and Alyssa Larson climbed on top of the mechanical bull together at Orlando’s Crazy Horse in Olathe, the guys playing pool nearby stopped to appreciate the view.

Sitting behind Larson, Mills snuggled up close and wrapped her arms around her friend’s waist. As the animal bucked and whipped around, the women tried to hang on by squeezing their thighs hard against the sides.

“Ride that bull!” one of the guys at the pool table yelled above the dance music pumping through the joint.

But as anyone who has ever tried to knows, you can’t beat the bull, even if you’ve ridden it 100 times, as Mills said she has. They flew off, laughing.

On a loud, crowded Saturday night at the bar, riding the bull “is something to do other than dance,” said Mills, a tiny blonde from Osawatomie wearing Daisy Duke cutoffs.

Yeehaw, people, the bull is back. On the weekends, lines form for the ride at Orlando’s Crazy Horse and two other area bars that have them — PBR in the Power & Light District and Whiskey Tango in Grain Valley.

And just look at all the famous folks who have mounted up lately.

Lady Gaga rode a mechanical bull at SWSW in March. The stars of “The Real Housewives of Orange County” recently hopped in the saddle at a hoedown-themed party.

Even the Kardashian clan will be seen trying to master a mechanical bull in the coming season. (Spoiler alert: They stink at it.)

When “Bachelor” star Juan Pablo Galavis came to Kansas City to visit Nikki Ferrell’s hometown, he rode PBR’s mechanical bull.

Steve Harvey and Queen Latifah have both featured mechanical bulls on their daytime talk shows in recent weeks. And to settle a bet Jimmy Fallon made the Montreal Canadiens’ mascot ride one after the team lost to the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Mechanical bulls haven’t gotten this much attention since 1980, when John Travolta famously plopped his skinny, denim-wrapped butt on top of one in “Urban Cowboy.”

“It’s a different sort of excitement” for a younger generation, said Orlando’s Crazy Horse manager Ron Jennings, who operates the mechanical bull there.

Whiskey Tango’s bull took a breather from the bar before making a comeback a couple of years ago. Now he’s just as popular as the beer pong.

“He’s a real mild-mannered gentleman,” said Whiskey Tango manager Chris Romanchuk. “He loves to be ridden by girls.”

The bulls typically get busy late in the evening after the liquid courage has flowed for a few hours and the women are feeling loose enough to whip their hair and thrust their chests out like video vixens as they ride.

At the bars, “most of them aren’t on there to truly see if they can ride,” said Sondra Wilson, owner of Creative Carnivals and Events in Overland Park, who rents mechanical bulls.

For those more interested in the ride than the posing, tips abound online and in YouTube videos. But when it comes down to it, surviving the mechanical bull is fairly basic.

“You just hold on for dear life!” a breathless Taylor Shepard, a 19-year-old freshman at Avila University, said after El Toro rocked her world at Orlando’s Crazy Horse.

Skip the tight jeans

Back in December, actress Lily Collins wore a glittery Chanel dress while riding a mechanical bull at a fashion show after-party in Dallas.

Most people don’t wear couture to the neighborhood bar, but it turns out that jeans aren’t ideal for riding either, because denim slides against the sides of the bull, making it hard to grip. Shorts work better.

Or, “if you have leggings, roll them up so at least your calves are able to hook onto the bull, because if not, you’re going to slide right off,” said Jessie Mills. “It’s slippery on top of the bull.”

An unspoken rule of riding: Wearing a skirt on the bull is really tacky unless you are wearing proper undergarments.

Jordan Boux of Olathe climbed on top of Moonshine at Whiskey Tango in a dress, but “I came prepared,” said the clinical therapist, 23. “I would never do that if I didn’t have Spanx on.”

One woman at Crazy Horse had to hike her tiny skirt nearly up to her ears so that she could spread her legs wide enough to mount El Toro.

Then as she rode she flashed her thong underwear at everyone watching, including a waitress who quickly grabbed a bottle of hand sanitizer and wiped the bull down after the woman finished her ride.

Ride at your own risk

Most mechanical bulls are set up in areas made of inflatable, bouncy moonwalk padding. But a soft landing doesn’t guarantee that you’ll ride unscathed.

Riders have walked away with rope burns from gripping the rope too tight and leg bruises from banging into the bull. The first time Jessie Mills rode she smacked her knee on the tip of one of the horns as she fell off.

Worst-case scenario? A 25-year-old hospital technician from Brooklyn is suing a cowboy-themed bar in New York City, claiming he injured himself riding the mechanical bull there in February. He alleges that he landed in an unpadded area when he fell and fractured his ankle in several places.

And that’s why riders are required to sign waivers holding the bar harmless in case of injury.

During a recent ride on El Toro at Orlando’s Crazy Horse, Alex Peacock, a 22-year-old warehouse worker from Kansas City, got knocked around like a rag doll.

At one point his body slammed hard into the back of the bull, but he managed to hang on because he’d twisted the rope around his wrist. “It’s great!” he exclaimed when he finished.

Veteran riders suggest that if you feel yourself falling, you can try to jump off instead, which will give you more control over where you land.

Better than Pilates?

Mechanical bull operators say women are better riders than guys.

“They have better balance,” said Casey Lunceford, who runs the bull at Whiskey Tango. “I’m serious. I grew up around horses and rodeo my whole life. And you know, the girls have way more balance than any guy ever will.”

Riding the bull is a workout. The proper form, in a nutshell: Upper body nice and loose, lower body tight against the bull.

Said one woman who recently rode El Toro: “You just have to clamp your legs onto it and hold on. It’s kind of bad, but you kind of treat it like you would a guy.”

Another less, uh, sexual way to look at it: “If you have like no leg muscles you’re kind of screwed out there because you have to tighten your legs up and squeeze the bull like you’re trying to squeeze a lemon,” said Alyssa Larson.

The lean is key, too. Lunceford can spot newbies by the way they position themselves on the bull. Veterans lean forward; virgins sit too far back on the bull and lean away from the head.

There’s a universal rhythm to the ride. Lean back when the bull’s head drops down, lean forward when the head pops up.

Guys tend to try to power through, banging around and hanging on using brute strength.

Women seem to enjoy the back-and-forth, back-and-forth rocking action.

Go figure.

Speak up, virgins

If the operator doesn’t ask if this is your first ride, tell him.

Chrystal Schroeder of Independence let her friends prod her into her first bull ride on El Toro. “I thought it’d be fun,” the 19-year-old QuikTrip worker said.

She saw a mechanical bull at Yallapalooza a couple of years ago but didn’t have the nerve to try it then.

“If they’re really timid, you don’t want to put them on a really rough ride because then they’re going to get scared and fall off and they’re not going to want to ride again,” said Ron Jennings at Orlando’s Crazy Horse.

Don’t drink and ride

John Gibson, a 22-year-old welder from Lee’s Summit, couldn’t stay away from the bull at Whiskey Tango a few weekends ago.

But Gibson, slit-eyed and clearly feeling no pain after several hours at the bar, had little control of his body and nearly flew into the mirrored wall next to the ride when the bull threw him off.

Bull operators don’t want to tell people that they’re too drunk to ride.

“It’s a judgment call depending on how bad they are,” said Jennings. “If they’re really bad, probably not.”

If nothing else, drunken attempts are good for a giggle.

“It’s hard for drunk people to get on the bull,” Jessie Mills said. “I saw one lady try I don’t know how many times and she couldn’t.”

Be nice to the operator

The real secret to a good ride? “Treat the bull operator well and we’ll treat you well,” Jennings said with a laugh.

Most bulls come with preprogrammed rides, meaning the operator just has to push a button and the bull takes off.

But they have manual settings, too, which gives the operator all the power to give you either an easy ride or a bone-shaking, rodeo-style turn.

Lunceford at Whiskey Tango has a motto.

“My deal is, you get two rides. The first ride’s yours. The second ride’s mine,” he said.

Probably a good idea to look for the tip jar.

To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816.234.4987 or send email to lgutierrez@kcstar.com.

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