Their funny, painted faces and baggy britches belie the seriousness of their missions. The rodeo bullfighters and barrelmen, often referred to as clowns, are in the arena to save the bull riders after they come off the backs of the big animals with their menacing horns and they often put their own lives on the line.
The bullfighters work on the ground, near the action, and the minute the cowboy comes off the back of the bull, they move in to distract the bull long enough for the rider to get out of the way. Often, the rider is on his knees scrambling or he is running toward to barrel in order to get behind it and use it as protection. The bullfighters, in the meantime, are luring the bull’s attention away from the cowboy and toward themselves.
They are as dedicated as paramedics and other service individuals who risk their lives trying to save others. And they are athletes. They work out and stay in training in order to outrun the bulls and out-maneuver them.
The barrelman in the arena is often a retired bullfighter who no longer feels his reflexes and timing are good enough to be in front of the bulls. He still wants to stay in the business so he works in the barrel. He will pick it up and walk to move the barrel closer to the action so that the cowboy can get to it if he needs it for protection. His job is also dangerous as there have been times when a bull got a horn into the barrel and hooked the barrelman, who occasionally requires hospitalization.
Matt Merritt was born in Minden, La. in 1982 to his parents Eddie & Lisa. He was always an Entertainer. Through the early years he excelled in sports and found himself living near a rodeo arena in north Louisiana. At around 16yrs old he put on “the makeup” for the 1st time. Merritt never was a rodeo contestant, and has always chosen the Entertainer’s roll at rodeos and bull ridings. Merritt says his biggest accomplishments are outside of the arena, marrying his wife Bonnie and being blessed with his two daughters “Ruia & Etta”. Today Matt and his family live on a working farm in NC. According to Merritt his biggest accomplishments inside the arena are the 3 trips he’s been able to make to Australia and once to New Zealand. He has worked an event in all of the states excluding Hawaii and Alaska. “With entertainment being readily available in this age of technology, I find and welcome the challenge of creating new and innovative ways to help people enjoy their night at any event where I am working.” Says , Matt.
Jimmy Lee was born and raised in Lowake, Texas, and spent his childhood in a farming and ranching environment. After high school he went to college and attended firefighting school. It was there that he developed a passion for helping people caught up in dire situations. He says, “As fulfilling as firefighting was, it kept me away from the cowboy culture I was born and raised in.” Jimmy found his way back to the cowboy life and in the sport of rodeo as a bull rider in his mid-twenties. His career in bull riding was short-lived but routed him back to his passion. By developing his art and athleticism as a bullfighter, the 34-year-old Lee is able to attain both of his goals: helping people and staying close to the cowboy culture through the sport of rodeo. In three short years he has accomplished a lot in his event in both the PRCA and the Professional Bull Riders Association.
26-year-old Daniel Dyson from Dayton, Texas, has been fighting bulls for six years. He competed in all rodeo events at the high school level. But that participation ended for a time when his shoulder was stepped-on by a bull. He suffered through torn ligaments and had to work his way back into the sport. Dyson worked the back pens for a year before recovering enough to face the bulls and says, “It’s been a heck of a good time!” In 2013, 2014 and 2015 he competed in the Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association Bullfighter Finals in Angleton, Texas. He was also one of the bullfighters for the 2014 Youth Bull Riding World Finals in Abilene, Texas. Dyson received his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association card two years ago and has gone head-to-head with many bulls in professional arenas. He has four siblings, a dog named Lefty and horse named Mexico. In his spare time, he has a much more relaxed hobby: Indian beadwork.