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, he 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 their have been times when a bull got a horn into the barrel and hooked the barrelman, who required hospitalization.
The bullfighters in the Snake River Stampede arena this year are Will O’Connell and Quirt Hunt. The barrelman is Justin Rumford.
O’Connell joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 2005 as a bull rider and saddle bronc rider and became a bullfighter in 2007.
The 24-year-old bullfighter, who hails from River Falls, Wis., was a four-time qualifier to the national high school finals rodeo in saddle bronc riding and bull riding.
O’Connell was named 2006 First Frontier Circuit Average Champion Bull rider, 2008-2009 Toughest Cowboy Pickup Man and ranked in the top eight at the Dodge National Circuit Finals.
O’Connell’s father, Ray O’ Connell, was a 16-time Great Lakes Pro Rodeo Circuit pickup man of the year.
This will be Quirt Hunt’s first appearance in the Snake River Stampede arena. The 34-year-old lives in Merna, Ne. He has worked many of the rodeos in America’s heartland from Abilene, Ks to North Platte, Ne. He has also worked Denver and Salt Lake City.
Hunt was listed as one of America’s top 50 most eligible bachelors by People Magazine.
Justin Rumford will be featured as barrelman and clown for the second year in a row at the Stampede.. Rumford, of Ponca City, Okla., grew up in a rodeo family. His grandfather, Floyd, started Rumford Rodeo Company in the 1950s. He ran the company until he passed away in l998. At that time, Justin’s dad, Bronc Rumford, took it over and still raises rodeo stock in the small town of Abbyville, Ks. Justin has worked as a contestant and pick up man in professional rodeo and last year he decided to try the entertaining and life-saving lifestyle of a barrelman and clown. Rumford has several comedy acts that will keep the crowds in stitches.