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By Emily McAfee
A nod of the head…that is what a bullfighter is waiting for. The nod tells everyone that the bull rider is ready to ride. The bucking chute door is pulled open quickly and the bull and rider fly out, the bull bucking and turning as hard as it can to rid the rider from its back.
The bullfighter is ready and quick to act. They are willing to put themself on the line to protect the cowboy when they hit the dirt in the arena, because that is their job.
Bull riding is one of the toughest sports around, but one of the key components of the industry is having a bullfighter around to help.
For 14 years, Tyler Simpson, 32, has been protecting cowboys from bulls. In 2008, when he was just 18 years old, he decided to become a bullfighter.
“At my cousin’s practice pens, I enjoyed getting out in front of the bulls,” Tyler said.
Tyler currently lives near Shelbina, MO and he is the son of Bernie and Janet Simpson, who reside in Clark County.
As a bullfighter, Tyler embraces a certain trait that we all wish we had…which is bravery. To become a bullfighter, you have to be the bravest person in the arena, because you must make the bull rider’s safety your top priority.
A bullfighter’s job is not an easy task. You have to be quick on your feet, quick to react, and be ready for the unpredictability of the bulls, which according to Tyler, can weigh around 1,500 to 2,000 pounds.
A bullfighter’s job consists of distracting the bulls after a rider falls off or jumps off its back.
“Whenever the rider comes off, my job is to get in between him and the bull and try to get the bull’s attention and take him away from the rider,” Tyler said.
“You just have to be brave.”
As a bull rider hits the dirt, Tyler has to protect the cowboy from the bull at all cost, and this includes putting himself in harm’s way. By distracting the bull, the rider has a chance to get away and this results in fewer injuries for the rider.
Typically, there are two or three bullfighters in the arena to distract the bulls and these bullfighters work as a team to protect the riders.
“Cowboy protector is what they call us,” Tyler said.
There are certain things that the bullfighters watch for before a cowboy and bull come out of the chute. One of the things that they look for, is how the cowboy’s hand is wrapped up in the bull rope.
“We look for what kind of wrap they take. There’s what we call a butterfly, which is not even wrapped, it just lays in their hand. There’s a regular wrap that goes all the way around their hand and then there’s a pinky wrap that goes all the way around their hand and in between their pinky. It gives them more grip,” Tyler said.
“A butterfly is not dangerous; your hand will pop out. The regular wrap and the pinky wrap are more dangerous. You can get hung up that way.”
Tyler has seen quite a few people get hung up on the rope, and that is when he has to step in and pull the rope on the bull to release the cowboy.
In the bull riding industry, injuries are common. To help prevent injuries, bullfighters wear chest protectors and padded pants. They also wear cleats to help them maneuver around the bulls in the arena.
A bullfighter’s job is never easy, and a lot of practice is needed to respond quickly. A bullfighter’s agility is tested every time they step into the arena. This is why it is a good idea to keep in shape for the job and to go to practice pens.
At the practice pens there are a variety of bulls for people to ride.
“They have young bulls, old bulls, and bulls that barely buck for kids that are just starting,” Tyler said.
The practice pens are also beneficial to the bullfighters, so they can learn how to dodge and distract the bulls.
Another aspect of the bull riding industry is rodeo clowns, but there is a difference between a rodeo clown and a bullfighter.
According to Tyler, “A bullfighter is a guy that protects the cowboy and a rodeo clown’s job is to keep the crowd entertained.”
Tyler has traveled to multiple states to be a bullfighter, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. He has traveled to county fairs, open bull rides, and Bull Riders of America competitions.
On his farm, Tyler raises bucking stock. He currently owns six cows, a three-year-old, and a bunch of babies.
“What they are is a cross between Brahma, Longhorn and a little bit of everything,” Tyler said.
“I try to sell them, but if they buck, I normally keep a few around. People will get on them or I will rent them out.”
Tyler’s favorite thing about his bullfighting career is the friends he has made along the way.
“You all become pretty close family,” Tyler said.
Tyler has some advice for anyone that is thinking about competing in the bull riding industry.
“I would highly recommend going to a bull riding school. They teach the basics of how to approach a bull, how you get on a bull, different types of wraps and stuff like that,” Tyler said.
“Going to a lot of practice pens is where you learn the most about the industry.”
Bull riding is one of the most dangerous events that a person can enter and yet, competitors travel across the U.S. to compete against each other for the chance to ride a bull.
The bullfighters take just as much of a risk at these events as the riders, but it is their bravery that makes them stand out in the arena.