Rodeo bullfighters aren’t clowning around

As a bullfighter you have to be ready to take a hit. “If I have to take a hookin’, I have to take a hookin’. That’s what the job is,” said rodeo bullfighter, Rowdy Moon. (Photo by Brian Seifferlein, Harvest Public Media)
Rowdy Moon runs in after a cowboy is thrown by a bucking bull. Moon has a scholarship to ride bareback in college rodeo, but plans to try bullfighting in the professional ranks someday. (Photo by Brian Seifferlein, Harvest Public Media)
Listen to this story: 

January 1, 2016 - 6:45am

At the rodeo, bull riding is the main event. But when the bull ride ends, the work begins for rodeo bullfighters. A young bullfighter is making a name in the business by putting himself in the middle of the action.

At bull riding time at at the Plum Creek Rodeo in Lexington, Neb., the rodeo corral is under the lights and the sun is like a ripe orange in the west. Rowdy Moon bounces on the balls of his feet like a boxer waiting for the match to start.

Rowdy Moon is a rodeo bullfighter with a cowboy’s name from Sargent, Neb. He wears a straw-colored hat, black shorts and football cleats so he can dig in when a cowboy hits the dirt.

Bull riders face the daunting task of riding a raging, 2,000 lb. animal for eight seconds with only one hand on the rope. (Photo by Brian Seifferlein, Harvest Public Media)

Bullfighter Rowdy Moon of Sargent, Nebraska is only 18 but started to learn rodeo bullfighting when he was 12 years old. (Photo by Brian Seifferlein, Harvest Public Media)

A brown bull bursts out of the gate. The rider grips his rope one handed, trying to cling to the bull’s back for eight seconds. The bull bucks and spins - a flurry of hooves and horns. When the cowboy is tossed off, Moon races to distract the angry bull as the rider gets his footing.

 “You see the way Rowdy moves in there to keep the bull’s attention?,” the rodeo announcer says as he highlights the action for the crowd.  “I’ll tell ya’, wow! Great job, Rowdy Moon.”

The bullfighter’s job is to get in front of the bull after a rider is thrown off so the cowboy can get out of harm’s way. Basically, he spends the night being chased by angry bulls.

“I’ve seen bulls stop at the buzzer. They’re programmed to where they just go out there and do their business and walk off,” Moon said. “But some of them younger bulls, they’re a little hook-y.”

Moon is a bullfighter, but he says a lot of people have the wrong idea about what that means. He’s not a matador and he’s also not a rodeo clown.

“Everybody who goes to a rodeo thinks the bullfighters are clowns,” Moon said.

It used to be that clowns and bullfighters were the same. But Moon doesn’t wear makeup or baggy pants. His job is to get the bull’s attention, not the crowd’s.

“You know I try to do my best not to get hurt,” Moon said. “But if I have to take a hookin’, I have to take a hookin’. That’s what the job is.”

In this Harvest video Rowdy Moon, an 18 year-old bullfighter, shows the the fleet-footed way of the bullfighter at the Plum Creek Rodeo in Lexington, Nebraska. (Video by Brian Seifferlein, Harvest Public Media)

Moon just graduated high school in 2015, but he already has plenty of practice fighting bulls. He started when he was 12. Then he fought bulls at Junior High and High School rodeos. Now he fights in the amateur circuit as a summer job with the Boots and Phillips rodeo company from Lexington, Neb.

Tom Phillips, one of the company’s owners’, says he numbers Moon among the best bullfighters.

“He can see where the bull’s going to go before they go there, how it’s going to happen and where to be in time to save the cowboy,” Phillips said.

Rodeo operator Tom Phillips says good bullfighters can read bulls’ movements. “He can see where the bull’s gonna go before they go there,” Phillips said. (Photo by Brian Seifferlein, Harvest Public Media)

More from Harvest Public Media: Mutton busting a rodeo tradition for rough and tumble kids

Phillips says Moon could move on from amateur rodeos to make a career bullfighting on the pro circuit. He has a bullfighter’s mindset: The cowboy comes first.

“You know, you can really tell who has the mental ability and (who will) give it all they have to get the rider out,” Moon said. “If someone gets hung up I sure try my hardest to get them out of there.”

Moon says he wants to try professional bullfighting after college. He has a rodeo scholarship to a community college to ride bareback. But when he’s not riding broncos, he’ll keep fighting bulls and taking the bumps and jabs that come with it.

The occasional horn in the side is part of the territory, but Moon says a short memory helps him stay focused.

“Sometimes when I do take a hookin’ I want to get that out of my mind for the next event,” Moon said. “Steppin’ in there, if you get a good save, it feels awesome. It always feels good when I’m out there,”

Editor's note: This story is part of our "Best of 2015" Signature Story report.  The story originally aired and was published in June.  



blog comments powered by Disqus