Ever been to a rodeo and wondered about the job of the “rodeo clown”—that brave soul that manages to distract the bulls from fallen riders, as well as entertain the crowd with a little comic relief at the same time?
It’s a job with a delicate balance, for sure. A group of elite men known as “protection bullfighters” evolved from this job; and have earned the reputation as the toughest guys in the rodeo due to the considerable dangers involved in their tasks.
Road Trip host Marc Istook traveled to Coffeyville, Kansas to meet one of these risk-taking daredevils. Cory Wall has been at the top of his game for 25 seasons strong, having parlayed an athletic background playing baseball, football, and competitive college wrestling. “Pushing the envelope was a big part of my life,” he admits.
However, he also admits that he couldn’t find anything more exhilarating than the sport of bullfighting, which in rodeo breaks down to being on guard at all times to attract the bull’s attention when a rider is thrown.
“That’s the number-one priority when you step in that arena—when one of the bull riders hits the ground, or when they need to dismount, I want to make sure that bull’s engaged with me,” Wall says. “In order to do that, the only place that they can see you, is right up there where their eyes are at.”
In other words: In the bull’s face. Sound unsettling? It certainly takes a high degree of skill to undertake.
“Bulls react to three things: Sight, touch, and sound,” explains Wall, adding that he has to keep himself in the creature’s sight path at all times. He demonstrates for Istook how to circle a 2,500-pound bull in a way that ensures he can never actually be caught by the animal.
The risk level of the job is comparable to a firefighter, in that one must put one’s own life on the line regularly to help out another. A split second could mean the difference between life and death, either for the fighter or the rider.
Injuries are common; Wall notes he’s had 15 concussions over his career, as well as broken bones and teeth knocked clean out of his mouth. Wall and his ilk are professional athletes, just without the million-dollar salaries: The position on average pays about as much as a schoolteacher.
Still, this is profession for Wall, and one in which he understands his “clients” very well. He takes Istook on a tour of the pen where the night’s bovine lineup lies placidly waiting for showtime.
“I know most of these bulls,” he notes with easy familiarity. “Some of them I get along with, some not so good!”