December 5-14, 2024


Gary Leffew – Get Out Of Bed With An Agenda

Oct 6, 2023

Gary Leffew – Get Out Of Bed With An Agenda

            The people that have been around for my whole rodeo career have become life-long friends. ProRodeo Hall of Famer Gary Leffew is one of those. 

Our first interactions came at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. He had a stuffed bull for people to get their pictures taken on. 

            Before the rodeo started, they had a party for media and sponsors. I convinced the National Western that having Gary’s stuffed bull there for photos would be a hit, and Gary and crew readily agreed. That went on for a few years and through it I got to know him and his family pretty well. 

            There is no denying the success that he had in the arena or the success that he has had teaching bull riders. A big part of that success is between the ears. 

            Gary grew up on a ranch in California, but was more attracted to two-wheeled vehicles than four-legged animals. He showed up at a rodeo and accepted a challenge to get on a bull. He didn’t make the whistle but found a new passion. He went home, cut his hair, shaved, and started working towards a successful eight-second ride. 

The bull that changed Gary Leffew’s life at Clovis, California in 1963. | Photo from Gary Leffew

            The determined young man started learning about bull riding, watching other bull riders and listening to every piece of advice he got. He had just turned 20. One piece of advice was to ride 100 different bulls, study them and learn something from each of the bulls. He worked at a job that he hated all week and got on bulls every weekend. 

            “If I got on five bulls on Saturday and five more Sunday, that was 10 closer to 100,” he said. “After I was introduced to bull riding, I was hooked. I thought about it day and night and knew it was what I was going to do to make a living, come hell or high water. It took me a year of getting on those bulls, but I was ready.” 

            He went to the Redding Rodeo in 1964 and tied for the win. Then he took vacation and traveled to Montana. He won the rodeo at Great Falls, went home and quit his job. He placed at the next ten rodeos he went to. Gary’s first of seven National Finals Rodeo qualifications came in 1966 when he finished 10th.

            The next year, he broke his ankle, got married and became a father.  Then he returned to competition. After his return, he went six months without a successful bull ride. He thought about quitting, worried about his responsibilities, and “what if” became more important than “what for.” A friend told him he should read Psycho – Cybernetics written by Maxwell Maltz in 1960. 

            “When I read it, I sat up in bed and started laughing,” Gary said. “It was explaining my life, what was going on in my head, why I had been winning, why I started losing and what I needed to do to get back to winning.” 

            He had wrestled in high school and learned the importance of drills in any athletic endeavor. After reading the book, the drills took on new meaning and had a new face. 

            Gary had been riding bulls at the same time as George Paul from Del Rio, Texas. “In my mind, he is the rankest, baddest bull rider I’ve ever seen,” he said. So, when Gary started doing drills and visualizing rides, he saw George Paul on top of those bulls. 

            After two months off visualizing and preparing for a return to action, Gary went three months of successful bull rides. He finished the 1968 season second behind the guy he had been watching in the arena and in his mind’s eye. George Paul recorded 79 successful rides in a row, was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979 and is the namesake for the oldest continuous stand-alone bull riding in the country. He had his pilot’s license and flew himself to a lot of rodeos and was killed in a plane crash in 1970. That was the year he got his gold buckle. 

 Gary Leffew with his world champion saddle and buckle in 1970. | Photo from Gary Leffew

            “I don’t think I ever got on a bull that I didn’t visualize George Paul getting on,” Gary said. “When I won my gold buckle I said, ‘George, this one is for you buddy. Every bull that I got on I was thinking of you.’” 

            Continuing to explore the mind and studying every aspect of bull riding. He read every book available and at 79 years old is still studying and doing his own drills. 

            Gary now lives in east Texas and has a tree with a straight limb that he greets every morning by using that limb for pull ups. After doing 30 – 36 of them, he continues with as many pushups and arm curls using 20-poud weights. He says he is in the best shape of his life, that it has strengthened his heart and his blood pressure is down. 

            He also relies on meditation and teaches those techniques along with drills at his schools. And he loves seeing his students go on and be successful, at every level and any age. At least eight of this year’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bull riding qualifiers have been his students. 

Josh Frost is one of eight of this year’s NFR bull riding qualifiers that have benefited from Gary Leffew’s knowledge. | Photo from Gary Leffew

            “I love teaching and seeing these kids win,” he commented. “The mental game is huge in all of the events, not just bull riding. It’s easy to think too much.

            “I’d get to a rodeo and ask Freckles Brown (1962 bull riding world champion) about a bull,” Gary said. “He’d think about a similar bull that he had seen me on and say, ‘Remember what it felt like when you rode that bull? That’s exactly what this one is going to feel like. This is going to be first place. Let me pull your rope.’ And I always stayed on because he put me in that mental state of what it felt like when your were successful. He was way ahead of his time on the mental game.”

            I’d say that Gary Leffew was ahead of his time working on his mental game in the 1970s as well. And I love that he is still learning and passing his knowledge on. 

At his school, Gary Leffew uses horses to help prospective bull riders understand where their bodies need to be in relation to a bull.

            “When I started, I didn’t have long-range goals,” he added. “When you have a goal, you get out of bed every day with an agenda. That’s when you are most productive. If you know where you are going, you can make a road map of how to get there.” 

            Those road maps have a lot of twists and turns, detours and changes in destinations. But experiencing all of it, having fun along the way, learning and finding new ways to get there are all good reminders I’ve had from my friend Gary Leffew.