Riding bulls is dangerous, but bullfighters, whose job it is to protect the riders, work on the ground with the bucking animals.
These men aren’t bull fighters in the same way matadors fight bulls in Spain. A bullfighters’ job on the Professional Bull Riders circuit isn’t to harm the bull, but to distract it from harming anyone, themselves included.
Frank Newsom is one such bullfighter on the PBR circuit. He, along with Jesse Byrne and Shorty Gorham, fight bulls for entire length of the show, about two and a half hours. Newsom said the job requires a desire to protect others.
“What we do, if you see a wreck you got to go get in the middle of it,” he said. “To do our job, you got to kind of want to save somebody.”
This desire is evident in the bullfighters as they put themselves between the bull and the rider. They often throw their hands up to catch the animal’s attention, even shielding the rider with their bodies if they need to. They have braces and padding to help them deflect blows, but Newsom said the goal is to avoid getting hit.
“The object of what we do is to try to prevent anything from happening,” Newsom said. “The quicker we can be there and deal with it, the smoother it goes.”
Bull rider Luke Snyder, a winner of the 15/15 Bucking Battle in The Pit, said he wouldn’t ride if it weren’t for the bull fighters.
“They’re a very crucial part of this game,” Snyder said. “After we get off, these bulls are going to sometimes go after us, and it’s their job to take the attention away from us. We only have to ride a couple times a night. They’re out there for every single ride. So in my eyes, they’re the toughest guys in the sport.”
Newsom said they can anticipate when a bull rider is about to fall off, and rush toward the animal before it happens.
“You watch the body language of a bull rider, you can kind of anticipate when he’s going to come off and kind of where he’s going to land, and you try to just have a hair trigger,” he said.
We don’t want (the bull) to even see the bull rider. That helps us do our jobs. It’s almost like a defense.”
The bullfighters can work together to circle the bull, draw its attention away from the rider and guide into the run, all without saying a word to one another.
“We’ve worked enough together that we kind of know,” he said. “I haven’t seen anyone else who can do it like us and work three men together and be smooth, you know.”
Flint Rasmussen, an entertainer for the PBR circuit, said the three are top level athletes.
“There’s a lot of guys that do what they do, and they are the very best,” he said. “They are the all-star team.”
Any All–Star has taken a fair amount of hits, and Newsom said he was no different. He and the other bull fighters said growing up on farms taught them how to take hits.
“To get to where we’re at, we’ve all had pretty rough hookings and injuries.”
No matter how skilled a bullfighter may be, Newson said getting hit is sometimes inevitable.
“It’s hard to describe how strong they really are,” he said. “Over the years, you get hit enough, you start learning how to take a hit if you got to, you know, so you don’t take the whole force of it. You get to where you know how to take care of yourself.”