"It isn't like baseball, where you can buy a glove and go out and play," says JimBob.
At a recent Way Out West clinic in Phoenix, no student was allowed to climb on a bull without first showing proof of health insurance and putting on a vest. And the entire first morning of the two-day session was taken up with chute procedure: how to get your hand free of the rope; why it's a bad idea to grab the fence if the bull runs into it; and, above all, to make sure you get up and run after the bull throws you. During breaks in the training the student cowboys gathered around the open door of a minivan in the arena parking lot to watch instructional videotapes and replays of Cody's 1992 championship ride.
The Custers' approach includes plenty of attitude coaching. They believe that staying confident and aggressive is a good way to avoid injuries. Mike Seng, 18, a recent high school graduate from Tucson, tries to stay confident by performing mental exercises such as visualization.
"If I ride a bull 10 times, I might only cover him [stay on at least eight seconds] five times," says Seng. "But in my mind, I can cover him all 10 times. When I ride, my subconscious takes over."
Seng says he learned that technique from his father, Bud, a retired police detective who specialized in forensic hypnosis, a means of retrieving repressed information from witnesses. When a bull named Full Metal Jacket tossed Mike to the dirt after about seven seconds during the Custers' clinic, the teenager grabbed his straw hat and scampered away unhurt, and his dad sighed in obvious relief.
"It's not like watching your son play Little League," said Bud. "But I have high regard for the Custers' instruction. They make sure everyone understands that a 1,500-pound bull can do some real damage."
The goal of the Custers' preride instruction is to instill respect for the animal. And just to be sure, the brothers begin every training session with a prayer asking for "safety for every man and beast here today." But they know that angry bulls aren't always good listeners.
"Hey, some guys get in the chute, let go of the rope and say, 'I just don't want to do it,' " says JimBob. "They've made a career decision. Others ride one time and say, 'That's it, never again.' I admire that. This is a real fun sport, but not everybody gets hooked on it."