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The Guru of Positive Thinking and World Champion Bull Rider: Gary Leffew

Gary Leffew is not only a World Champion bull rider, he is also known as the “Guru of Positive Thinking” and has the career highlights to back it up. Having been born and raised in California, he didn’t get on his first bull until he was about 20 years old. In 1964, after a year of riding practice bulls every day, Leffew quit his job and decided to pursue rodeo full time. In 1966, he made his first appearance at the National Finals Rodeo, finishing 10th in the world standings. 

Even before his time of “positive thinking”, Gary knew the importance of visualizing the kind of life that you want to live and that’s exactly what he did. When I asked Gary what the early days of his career looked like this is what he said, 

Gary: When you’re passionate about something and focused on it, you set up a law of attraction. The nature of your thoughts attracts a reciprocating action. Because of that raw positive thinking, in the beginning, I placed in the first 10 rodeos I competed in. Unfortunately, things took a bit of a turn and I went through a rough patch after I made my first National Finals when I broke my leg. At that time, I was married and had a kid on the way, so I started to worry for the first time in my life about what would happen if I didn’t win. What would happen if I didn’t stay on the bull? Not knowing how the mind worked at that time, I didn’t know that the more I worried, the more my mind would work against itself and self-sabotage ended up taking over. I went six months without riding a bull at that time to get myself back on track.

Then came a book entitled “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz; which, in Gary’s own words, “changed his life”. Back then, your “typical” cowboy wasn’t too keen on terms like “visualization”, “zen-like state” and “mental game”. He was the first rodeo athlete to approach competition with these different techniques. After time and lots of practice, Gary learned to drown out the negative opinions and train his mind to accomplish what he set out to do. 

Now, using these mental techniques yourself and training someone else to do them are two very different things. I was curious about what Gary’s own methods looked like when he started applying the power of positive thinking and he responded with this,

Gary: Every day at five in the morning I got up and did my visualization and role modeling. There was a guy by the name of George Paul that rode 67 bulls without getting bucked off. He was the overnight King and as good as anybody I’ve ever seen. Anthony Robbins said if you want to be the best, find the best to copy, so I started copying George’s style of riding. When I visualized it, I would see him riding and I would tell myself “That’s me, I can do that.” Anything you run through your mind over and over, you will start to believe it. When I went to my first rodeo in Denver, Colorado, the two months before that, every bull there would have been impossible for me to ride. After two months of brainwashing myself, the rankest bulls there looked like a day off. I couldn’t understand how anybody was falling off them because the mind can’t tell the difference between that real experience and the imagined experience. 

Success didn’t just happen for him. It took a transformation from the inside-out to achieve his 1970 World Championship. When he learned to mentally put himself into the Winner’s Circle, Gary competed in hundreds of rodeos, but out of 25 of America’s top-paying and rankest rodeos, he won 19 of them. He won the World Championship and the WNFR Average – riding 9 out of 10 bulls. He qualified for the WNFR  seven times and eventually earned his way into the PRCA Hall of Fame.

After his career of bull riding, Gary Leffew decided to stick with the sport he loves and started training up-and-coming bull riders on the tricks of the trade, specifically how to mentally prepare for competing and riding bulls. In addition to training bull riders, he has also coached 25 world championship bull riders, barrel racers, calf ropers, steer wrestlers, and even NASCAR drivers on mental preparation for competition. Leffew mentioned that his bull riding school offers both private programs and group programs where riders can not only learn the mechanics of riding but also learn drills and the basics of “positive thinking” to improve their performance. Gary mentioned this about his training, 

Gary: Everything they learn in my school isn’t going to end in results on the same day or weekend because it takes 21 days to take effect and to learn a habit. There are more than a couple of world champions who have been through my school, and they weren’t riding much better when they left than when they came. What they did do, is the drills, got outside of the game, and worked at it. Then each time they came back they would get better each time. 

As I started to wrap up the interview, I couldn’t end it without knowing what kind of advice Gary Leffew had for anyone looking to get into bull riding or even where to start. This is Gary’s advice for new riders,

“Gary: It’s like learning how to ski, you don’t go up on the black diamond right off the bat or you’ll kill yourself. Most places new riders go don’t have the type of bulls they need to start on in order to build confidence. If you’re getting bucked off every time, you’re killing your confidence. Then no matter what you learn, you’re always fighting that fear of failure and getting hurt. We start riders off on bulls that would be comparable to the bunny slopes. Once you get the mechanics down and the confidence is up, then we move to a level a little higher. Keep testing yourself as you go but do not allow yourself to go beyond that until you’re ready.”

In case you haven’t heard yet, the Guru of Positive Thinking has come out with his own podcast called, Trouble Expected with Gary Leffew. When I asked Gary what his fans and listeners can expect on the podcast, this was the teaser he gave me,

Gary: I have 59 years of some of the best stories of the most memorable characters in rodeo. Some of the stories I plan to tell are going to be really entertaining. People can also expect to see stories on the mental side of the game too. We’re going to bring in sports psychologists that talk about how to get you on that unconscious side of the mind and get you in that winning state. 

Listen, if you’re a bull riding, Gary Leffew, or rodeo fan then you’re going to want to check out his podcast, which is available everywhere you can listen to podcasts. It was great sitting down and talking to this legend about his experiences and his plans for the future. If you want to learn more about Gary Leffew and his bull riding schools, you can check out his website, www.garyleffewsbullridingworld.com, and keep an eye out for new podcast episodes!

Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine

This article was created for the Summer Issue of the Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine which was released in early July. You can catch this article and many more by checking out the full issue. For more information on Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine, visit the website here.

CLN Community & Event Sponsor

Hi everyone! I'm Krysta Paffrath, I am a proud Arizona native who has a passion for everything business and rodeo. I am beyond thrilled to be the Editor in Chief for Cowboy Lifestyle Network. With my background in digital marketing and rodeo, this was a natural fit for me to join the team. My adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit has guided me to work in many places like the WYO Quarter Horse Ranch in Thermopolis, Wyoming, a working cattle ranch in Seligman, Arizona, and many places in between. I am passionate about preserving the western way of life and working with different brands and rodeos to make that happen. If you're looking for a write-up, please shoot me an email at krysta@clngo.com. Learn more about me at krystapaffrath.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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