If you can take a punch and like getting hit by a 2,000-pound bull, then bullfighting is the job for you.
It’s one of those career paths that requires nerves of steel and being able to handle a little pain now and then. Sound like fun to you?
Most people have been to a rodeo and have seen the clowns jump in to save a bull rider or bronc rider. Those clowns save lives and are called bullfighters and they prefer bullfighter to rodeo clown.
The clown makeup is for the entertainment of the crowd.
“Most of the old-timers still wear clown makeup, but the new guys don’t,” Josh Johnson, an amateur rodeo bullfighter, said. “They will wear the baggy pants and a jersey of some kind.”
Bullfighter in training
Haden Tibbits is a sophomore at Pahrump Valley High School and is training to be a bullfighter.
At 16-years-old he is getting as much experience as he can by bullfighting at Pahrump Rodeo team practices. Now that Pahrump has a rodeo team it is much easier for him to get this training, as the bull riders on the team practice every weekend.
“I only have been doing this for six months,” he said. “I have been around rodeos pretty much my whole life. I got interested in fighting bulls because I like the thrill and because it keeps my mind off things.”
“He works hard and is very good at what he does,” said Buddy Krebs, Pahrump High School rodeo director.
“I think Haden is outstanding,” Johnson, Haden’s bullfighting teacher said. “He has a lot of heart, and I think he will go far.”
Johnson is teaching Haden because the majority of the bullfighters learn from doing.
“You can go to a school,” Johnson said. “But most of the fighters learn from another fighter and hands-on training.”
Johnson has fought bulls for the past 11 years and once rode bulls for the Pahrump Valley High School rodeo team.
“Bullfighters save the riders from getting hurt by the bull,” Haden Tibbits said. “We shoot the gap. You get there and shoot the gap. When the bull goes for the rider I shoot for the gap, which is between the bull and the rider and then get hit by the bull. It hurts.”
He said the bull rider is required to run in and grab the bull and hit it in the head to get its attention.
“We do this so the bull focuses his attention on us and not the rider,” he said.
Johnson agreed. “You’ve got to get the bull’s attention,” Johnson said. “You do that by grabbing his horns, hollering at him and just try to make yourself the easier target.”
Johnson added, “Yes, you get hit.” He said the object is to distract the bull and not get hit, but accidents happen.
“You will get hit 75 percent of the time,” he said. “I have never been hurt seriously, where I had to spend time in the hospital, but I have had cracked ribs, a torn meniscus, and a punctured lung.”
In the short six months that Tibbits has been bullfighting, he has been hurt.
“I have had no broken bones,” Tibbits said. “I have been kicked in the back, and in my knee, and one time I got hit so hard that it flipped my whole body in the air.”
Tibbits said he does wear some protection when he bullfights.
“I wear a padded vest, padded shorts similar to football pants and cleats for traction,” Tibbits said.
Johnson said he himself is trying to break into professional rodeo.
“You just do as many open rodeos as you can,” he said. “It does help to know someone, but you also have to go through some hard knocks. There is a big difference in pay working amateur rodeo and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos. Bullfighters for amateur can make $500 to $600 in a weekend and the PRCA fighter makes $1,900-$5,000 per weekend.”
Johnson says skill comes more into play as he gets older.
“I am no way near as fast as Haden is,” Johnson said. “He depends on his speed. But as you get older you rely on skill and using your skill to make the better move.”
He said it helps to have a partner that you can trust. Oh, and he said having a good medical plan would also help.
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