postheadericon Rooftop Rodeo already breaking records

Champs, NFR qualifiers among nearly 800 contestants planning for Estes Park

ESTES PARK, Colo. – This town of about 6,000 people is home to around 4 million summertime visitors who take in the exceptional hospitality and beautiful landscape that is Rocky Mountain National Park.

It’s about to get a little bigger with the 90th edition of the Rooftop Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 6-Monday, July 11, at Granny May Arena in Estes Park. Nearly 800 contestants have signed up to compete during this year’s event.

Chet Johnson, a four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Douglas, Wyo., rides during the 2015 Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park, Colo. A record number of entrants are hoping to compete at this year's Rooftop Rodeo. (MARSHA HOBERT PHOTO)

Chet Johnson, a four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Douglas, Wyo., rides during the 2015 Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park, Colo. A record number of entrants are hoping to compete at this year’s Rooftop Rodeo. (MARSHA HOBERT PHOTO)

“In visiting from our stock contractor, Binion Cervi, we have 786 contestants that have entered our rodeo,” said Mark Purdy, chairman of Estes Park Western Heritage Inc., a group of volunteers that works with the town of Estes Park to produce the annual rodeo. “There is still an opportunity for re-entries, so there’s a great chance that we will have more than 800 entries for our rodeo this year.”

The 2015 Rooftop Rodeo featured a then-record 724 entries, so the increase means good things for the community and for the rodeo in general.

“We have a pretty significant committee purse of more than $61,000 in all our events combined,” said Ben Vigil, president of Estes Park Western Heritage. “When you add all those contestants entry fees into the mix, it makes our overall purse phenomenal.”

The prospective contestant list will feature more than 90 athletes that have all qualified for the National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s year-end championship that takes place each December in Las Vegas.

Among those are 15 world championships that dozens gold buckles combined, like four-time barrel racing titlist Sherry Cervi of Marana, Ariz. Not only does she own 18 NFR qualifications, but also she has earned more than $3 million in her career.

“It’s great for us to see so many of rodeo’s best who want to be in Estes Park for our rodeo,” Vigil said. “We want to provide them with the best hospitality possible and let them know we are here for them.

“Our goals are to put on a great competition for the cowboys and cowgirls and to put on great performances for fans. We want to entertain them and let them enjoy their Estes Park experience that much more.”

That’s why Rooftop Rodeo has been recognized as one of the top 20 events in ProRodeo. It has been named Small Rodeo of the Year five times; since 2011, it has been listed among the top five medium rodeos in the country.

A key reason for that involves a tireless work ethic among members of the community that donate their time for the event. It takes hundreds of man-hours every year to make the week of festivities as successful as they have been over the years.

“We are very proud of the history of our rodeo,” Purdy said. “This is our 90th year, and to have a record number of contestants enter our rodeo is just going to add to our celebration.

“We have an amazing group of people that work very diligently to make our rodeo the best it can be. I’m very proud to be associated with all of them.”

postheadericon Going after the cup

Top 15 bullfighters will battle for the title at the inaugural Cavender’s Cup

CEDAR PARK, Texas – For decades, freestyle bullfighting has been an undercard event.

Bullfighters Only is making it the main event.

That’s the primary focus of the Cavender’s Cup, set for 5 p.m. Sunday, July 26, at the HEB Center at Cedar Park. It will be a true showcase, and the top bullfighters in the game will make sure of that.

Nathan Harp

Nathan Harp

“The first Bullfighters Only event we had was a stand-alone freestyle bullfight in Las Vegas, and we made a statement,” said Nathan Harp, 26, of Tuttle, Okla. “This is going to be the richest one-day bullfight that I know about. We keep pushing the envelope, keep breaking new boundaries and seeing how far we can go from there.”

The Cavender’s Cup will feature the top 15 in a series of man-vs.-beast bouts, whereby the bullfighters use their athleticism to try to outwit and outmaneuver equally athletic bulls, which were bred specifically for this kind of fight.

With scores based on a 100-point scale, men can earn up to 50 points per fight based on their ability to exhibit control and style while maneuvering around or over an animal; a bull can earn up to 50 points based on its quickness, aggression and willingness to stay with the bullfighter.

“To me, we’ve got the best 15 guys wrapped up in Bullfighters Only,” said Ross Hill, 32, of Muscle Schoals, Ala. “Being the top 15 guys and sticking together to see this thing through is pretty cool.”

Imagine standing face to face with a 1,300-pound bull that possesses great speed, quick feet and intimidating horns. That’s exactly what freestyle bullfighters see any time they are in the ring, and that’s what makes it exciting.

Ross Hill

Ross Hill

“The really cool thing about freestyle bullfighting is that it’s just really simple to understand,” Hill said. “It’s a game of cat and mouse, except the mouse weights a lot more than 20 pounds and can flat run over you. It’s easy to follow, and it’s a little more self-explanatory than some extreme events.

“It’s man vs. beast. We’re the last of the gladiators. There aren’t a whole lot of sports out there where you can show your skill around a bull.”

It’s exciting to watch and entices spectators into the middle of the action, which is fast and furious and features true athleticism by men and bovines. Possibly the rankest bull in the game, Hookin’ A Ranch’s Spaniard, will be part of the mix. Chuck Swisher of Dover, Okla., was 89 points to win in Little Rock, Ark., earlier this year; he also is the only bullfighter not to be hooked by Spaniard.

“You’re either going to see something really cool, or you’re going to see a really cool hooking,” Harp said. “Either way, it’s going to be really awesome.”

That’s exactly what fans are looking for in Cedar Park, a community of more than 61,000 people on the north edge of Austin, Texas. The Cavender’s Cup will be an exciting conclusion to a three-day Western sports experience, the perfect headliner to two days of bull riding.

The event will be broken down into five three-man rounds. The top finisher from each round will advance to the championship round. From there, the bullfighter with the best score will be crowned champion.

“I really think this is going to be just the first of many stand-alone bullfights we do in the BFO,” Harp said. “This is an opportunity that we can do more, that we can have a full show of freestyle bullfighting. There is a market for stand-alone bullfights, and I really think there are a lot of people that love to watch freestyle bullfighting.

“Bullfighters Only is a great opportunity to do what we love. It’s more important for us to take freestyle bullfighting to another level, one that nobody in my generation has ever seen. I wouldn’t be at my level in my career without freestyle bullfighting.”

The Cavender’s Cup is the 14th stop on a tour of more than 30 events. At the conclusion of the season, the first Bullfighters Only world champion will be crowned.

“I want it, and I want it bad,” said Hill, an established veteran in the game. “I want to show my friends that I have as much confidence in myself as they do in me.”

Confidence is vital in bullfighting. Going head-to-head against a living, breathing, stomping bovine is no place for anyone who lacks it.

“What’s really cool about the BFO is that everybody has a chance to win the world this year,” Harp said. “It’s brought all the top dogs to one spot and let them fight it out.”

The next step toward that world title is in Cedar Park.

CAVENDER’S CUP CONTESTANTS

postheadericon Rutkowski takes Reno title

RENO, Nev. – A quick, little black bull tried to get the best of Weston Rutkowski, but the Haskell, Texas, bullfighter didn’t let it happen.

Weston Rutkowski

Weston Rutkowski

In fact, was a winning combination for Rutkowski, who scored 88 points Wednesday night to win the Bullfighters Only event that took place in conjunction with the Reno Rodeo.

“I’ve dreamed about coming to these rodeos since I was a kid,” said Rutkowski, 27, of Haskell, Texas. “To come and compete is great, but to come here and win is something that I could only dream about. The fact that the BFO got to come here and be in the Reno Rodeo means a lot to us as bullfighters.”

Rutkowski’s distanced himself from his fellow bullfighters with a strong performance against an equally strong bull. In fact, all three bulls in Wednesday’s championship round were brothers to the great fighting bull Spaniard, which has been recognized as the best in freestyle bullfighting.

Nate Jestes

Nate Jestes

“I had a great bull, and that helped a lot,” said Rutkowski, who posted an 85-point score to win Sunday’s first round. “These bulls were all brothers, so they were a lot alike.”

Rutkowski’s bull worked a little better for his style, and the score proved it. Nate Jestes of Douglas, Wyo., who won the second round, finished second with 85 points; Round 3 winner Chuck Swisher of Dover, Okla., was 82 for third.

“The main difference between Nate’s fight and my fight was that his bull didn’t give him a chance to get his distance,” Rutkowski said. “When Nate was throwing his fake, his bull wouldn’t go all the way through. Maybe it was a little bit smarter. It’s hard to get your distance, and it’s hard to do with this bloodline.”

Chuck Swisher

Chuck Swisher

That wasn’t the case with his bull.

“I knew these bulls were going to fight because of their bloodlines, but I wasn’t sure because they had never been out in a freestyle match,” he said. “You can’t play too much into it; you just need to read the animals and make your moves accordingly. That’s what freestyle bullfighting is about.

In all, Rutkowski pocketed more than $3,000 in Reno and moved into the top five of the Bullfighters Only standings. Jestes is still the No. 1 man in the BFO.

“It means everything for us as Bullfighters Only to be part of the Reno Rodeo,” Rutkowski said. “For me to come to this event the first year of a BFO event, then win it, is great. It’s just so exciting, and it’s the first stepping stone.

“In a few days, we’ll all be fighting at our first big-time, stand-alone Bullfighters Only event, the Cavender’s Cup down by Austin (Texas). These are exciting times to be a freestyle bullfighter.”

It’s just beginning.

postheadericon Brazilians making a mark in the PBR

GUYMON, Okla. – Two decades ago, Brazilian bull riding champion Adriano Moraes moved to the United States to test his skills against the best in the business.

He was an explorer, of sorts, and became the first of his countrymen to excel worldwide; he did so rapidly. He was the first Professional Bull Riders world champion ever crowned in 1994 – he added two more titles in 2001 and ’06.

Adriano Moraes

Adriano Moraes

He led the way for an influx of Brazilian talent into the PBR. Over the years, he has been joined by other Brazilian world champions: Ednei Caminhas in 2002, Guilherme Marchi in 2008, Renato Nunes in 2010 and Silvano Alves in 2011, ’12 and ’14.

There’s reason to believe there will be a strong Brazilian contingent heading to the Oklahoma Panhandle for the Kasey Hayes & Stormy Wing Invitational PBR BlueDEF Velocity Tour event, set for 8 p.m. Saturday, July 23, at Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena in Guymon.

Now in its third year, Hayes is the defending champion. His runner-up from a year ago, Kaique Pacheco, stands as the No. 1 man in the PBR world standings. That not only says a lot for the talent that is expected to be in Texas County in July, but also for the type of event that takes place each summer.

The BlueDEF Velocity Tour is a minor league system in the PBR, but it also features the top bull riders in the game. While the championship race is decided on a points system, dollars earned at every level of the PBR help identify qualifiers for the PBR’s premier tour, the Built Ford Tough Series, and the world finals, which takes place in November in Las Vegas.

In the Guymon event’s inaugural run, Brazilian Fabiano Vieira claimed the championship, then went to the finals No. 2 in the standings. He earned $7,367 inside Hitch Arena.

Fabiano is a phenomenal bull rider, and he did what he does,” said Hayes, a six-time PBR World Finals qualifier from Liberal, Kan. “He’s a machine. He rides the bulls he gets on, and he wins.”

Last year, Hayes pocketed $9,725, which helped him earn his eighth qualification to the finale.

Derek Kolbaba of Walla Walla, Wash., leads the BlueDEF standings with more than $33,000 in earnings. The next five cowboys are all from Brazile: Paulo Lima, Marco Eguchi, Emilio Resende, Juliano Antonio Da Silva and Lindomar Lino.

“I think what we’ve got something good to offer the contestants, and it’s one I’d want to go to,” said Wing, a PBR World Finals qualifier from Dalhart, Texas. “With Kasey and I both being bull riders and living close to Guymon, I think it should be good.”

postheadericon Rumford ready for Rooftop

Four-time Clown of the Year Justin Rumford launches himself over a couple of willing participants during his act at a recent rodeo. Rumford will be featured at the Rooftop Rodeo, which begins in two weeks. (FRAN RUCHALSKI PHOTO)

Four-time Clown of the Year Justin Rumford launches himself over a couple of willing participants during his act at a recent rodeo. Rumford will be featured at the Rooftop Rodeo, which begins in two weeks. (FRAN RUCHALSKI PHOTO)

Decorated clown, entertainer returns to Estes Park rodeo for its 90th anniversary

ESTES PARK, Colo. – Justin Rumford has always made people laugh.

It’s his naturally gregarious nature, a personality developed from a life on the rodeo trail. He’s a third-generation cowboy who has done just about everything there can be done in the sport he loves.

Rumford was raised in a south Kansas rodeo family and has served as a truck driver, a pickup man, a bullfighter and a contestant, just to name a few. He spent his young adult life trying to find his perfect fit in the rodeo industry.

He found it about five years ago when he combined his rodeo experience with his personality and became the preeminent clowns in ProRodeo. In fact, he’s been named the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Clown of the Year each of the past four seasons and is a two-time Coors Man in the Can.

He will have it all with him to the 90th edition of the Rooftop Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 6-Monday, July 11, at Granny May Arena in Estes Park. Rumford will be the rodeo’s clown and featured act for the six-night rodeo.

“We have had Justin and his family at Rooftop Rodeo before, and we’re very excited to have him back this year,” said Mark Purdy, chairman of Estes Park Western Heritage Inc., a group of volunteers that works with the town of Estes Park to produce the annual rodeo.

“The members of the PRCA have voted him as the best clown in rodeo, and we know he’s going to be a hit with everyone that comes to our rodeo.”

Comedy is at the forefront of Rumford’s repertoire, and he adds a distinct flavor to each rodeo performance. Having a lifelong history in the game also plays to his strengths.

“This clowning deal is the best thing I’ve ever had,” said Rumford, who lives Ponca City, Okla., with his wife, Ashley, and their 2-year-old triplets, Livi, Lola and Bandy. “It’s something in rodeo that I can have a lot of longevity in. There’s not just a ton of risk, and it’s something I enjoy so much.”

He’s had great success in just a short time as a rodeo clown, but his biggest reward is doing something he loves. Still, he doubled-up in two major awards this last year, being named the Clown of the Year for the fourth straight time and the Coors Man in the Can for the second time in three years – the latter award is named for the best barrelman in the sport.

“I’ve been involved in rodeo my whole life,” he said. “I’ve never done anything else, and I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I’ve always wanted to be successful. A (few) years ago when I started this venture, I knew if I worked really hard and tried really hard that I could get to the top in a hurry.”

He’s made it, and now he’s bringing his show back to Estes Park.

“People want to laugh at each other more than they want to laugh at something,” Rumford said. “When I’m in the arena, I’m saying the same stuff I’d say if I wasn’t clowning.

“It’s just me being me.”

That’s pretty good.

postheadericon Struxness claims national title

CASPER, Wyo. – Northwestern Oklahoma State University has finally crowned its first national champion in rodeo.

Steer wrestler J.D. Struxness wrestled four steers in a cumulative time of 18.1 seconds to better the best field of bulldoggers in the country, claiming that elusive title during the weeklong College National Finals Rodeo in Casper.

J.D. Struxness

J.D. Struxness

“It was a great week,” said Struxness of Appleton, Minn., who edged the reserve champion, teammate Jacob Eldred of State Center, Iowa, by one second. “It was a great confidence booster when you can win something like that.

“Jacob and I went in and expected to win first and second. They gave us the steers to do it on, and we just did our jobs.”

They weren’t the only ones. The Rangers men finished the finale as the men’s reserve champions, just 200 points behind the titlists, Feather River (Calif.) College. Northwestern finished with 800 points, with Struxness and Edler contributing the most; they were helped by teammates Bryson Sechrist of Apache, Okla., who placed fourth in tie-down roping, while bareback rider Austin Graham of Jay, Okla., finished 13th.

Stockton Graves

Stockton Graves

“It was a fun week, and those guys and girls were doing well every day,” said coach Stockton Graves, a Northwestern alumnus and recognized as one of the top steer wrestlers in professional rodeo over the past 20 years. “By finishing second, it’s our best finish ever. I really think it’s huge for us. We were in contention to win a national title. That’s all you can ask for. They competed well, and we just missed it.

“I wanted to get our first national championship ever, and we had three great chances and an outside chance with Shayna,” he said, referring to senior goat-tier Shayna Miller of Faith, S.D., who finished 12th. “I am just proud as punch of all those kids.”

Eight Northwestern athletes earned the right to compete at the college finals. Of those, four did well enough to earn a spot in the championship go-round, which features only the top 12 contestants in each event. Two others, Graham in bareback riding and goat-tier Laremi Allred of Kanaraville, Utah, placed 13th, just missing out on the short round.

“At one time, we had a very good chance of having seven out of eight kids in the short-go,” Graves said. “We just missed it. They all competed well.”

Jacob Edler

Jacob Edler

A third goat-tier, Tearnee Nelson of Faith, finished in a tie for 16th, completing three solid runs. The women finished among the top 20 in the final standings.

But the week belonged to Struxness and Edler. Riding Edler’s team of horses, the tandem put on a showcase in Casper. They ran their first three steers on consecutive days – Sunday, Monday and Tuesday – and sat atop the leaderboard through the remaining week.

Struxness finished runner-up in the second round and won the third round to own a solid lead heading into the short go-round, trailed only by Edler, who was just seven-10ths of a second behind.

The tandem added an exclamation point on Championship Saturday by finishing first and second; Struxness was 4.2, and Edler was 4.5. In fact, Edler’s runner-up final tally was 4.5 seconds ahead of the No. 3 bulldogger in the standings.

“The goal J.D. and I had was to win first and second in the nation, and we didn’t care who it was,” Edler said. “We knew we were rodeoing together, just like we will be all summer. Our goal is to win first and second at every rodeo we go to.”

That’s a true team concept that has worked well for the Rangers all season. The women won the Central Plains Region title and earned the right to take all four cowgirls to Casper. The men finished third – only the top two teams in each region can take a full team of six cowboys – but still had four cowboys perform solidly at the college finals.

“This just gives us momentum to springboard from,” Graves said. “Now we know we can do it. Now that we’ve done that, especially with just four guys, it’s a huge showing for us. I’m proud of Northwestern, and I’m proud of how well all these guys and girls competed.”

It also shows the kind of ability that the Rangers possess.

“That’s great for us as a team,” Struxness said. “We sent four very talented individuals; three of us made the short round, and the fourth didn’t quite get the horses he needed to show off his riding skills. We knew going out there with the four guys we had that we had a chance to do well. It showed how much talent we had as a team, even though we didn’t win the region.

“Stockton has changed the program around and has it headed in the right way.”

The proof of that happened in Casper the middle of June, but the results at the college finals are a tip of the cap to the type of work ethic it takes to make a run at championships.

“Stockton is going to help a guy as much as a guy is willing to help himself,” Edler said. “He’s going to give you all the tools and resources he has to help you.”

All those tools help, but the success takes place with each individual performing to the best of his or her ability.

“I broke down the numbers this year, and we had 19 to 25 kids make the short round every weekend,” Graves said. “They were used to being in the short round and winning, and I think that gave them all the confidence to do well at the college finals.”

postheadericon Pecos rodeo building on success

PECOS, Texas – The West of the Pecos Rodeo has been around for 134 years, but the 2015 version may well have been one of the very best.

The volunteer committee that organizes the annual event was recognized as one of the very best a year ago, nominated for Large Outdoor Rodeo of the Year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Now that same core group of individuals is working hard to improve for this year’s rodeo, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 22-Saturday, June 25, at Buck Jackson Arena.

RODEO_LOGO_REVISION2_PRESENTATION“It was such an honor to even be in the same class as the other nominees,” said Brenda McKinney, a longtime member of the committee. “This event is so important to our whole community. To be nominated in that class was very humbling.”

“It helps us as a committee to get through all the work and everything involved in such a production when you are nominated in such an elite group.”

The honor was well-deserved, and the local organizers are building toward an even better 2016 championship. That’s why they have hired some of the best personnel in ProRodeo, including Dallas-based Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, the premier stock contractor in the PRCA. The firm has four nominations for Stock Contractor of the Year and has had more animals perform at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo than any other livestock provider over the last three years.

The list of elite personnel includes Boyd Polhamus, a regular Announcer of the Year nominee who owns four awards; sound director Benje Bendele, who works many of the biggest events in the sport, including the NFR; Sandy Gwatney, a Secretary of the Year nominee; Bullfighter of the Year finalist Clay Heger; and Jeremy Willis, a finalist for the 2015 Pickup Man of the Year.

“When you look at who we have, we have the best of the best putting on our rodeo, announcing our rodeo, doing the sound at our rodeo, working behind the scenes of our rodeo,” McKinney said. “All that helps us get the best of the best among the contestants.”

This year’s West of the Pecos Rodeo also will feature Troy Lerwill, one of the most decorated entertainers in the game. He has been recognized as one of the greatest comedy acts in rodeo as well as one of the most respected barrelmen.

“We’re very excited to have him on board this year,” McKinney said. “We’ve wanted to have him to our event many times, and we are finally able to get him here. I think the crowd will really like what he does.”

From the family-friendly entertainment to the world-class competition, the local committee has entrusted the production and the livestock to the Carr firm, just as it has for more than a decade.

“Pete Carr is a class act,” she said. “He’s so professional and easy to work with. He just wants to please, and he’s always accommodating. He’s willing to work and do whatever we ask, even if it’s last-minute. His people are all very professional, so it’s nice to work with them every year.

“It’s such a big job putting on a rodeo. When you have somebody like Pete, he makes our jobs easy. Of course, he’s also got the best stock.”

It all adds up to a winning combination for rodeo fans in West Texas.

postheadericon Making their way to Reno

Nate Jestes makes a pass on a bull during a Bullfighters Only event. Jestes will be one of the featured bullfighters competing Sunday, June 19-Wednesday, June 22, in conjunction with the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF BULLFIGHTERS ONLY)

Nate Jestes makes a pass on a bull during a Bullfighters Only event. Jestes will be one of the featured bullfighters competing Sunday, June 19-Wednesday, June 22, in conjunction with the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Bullfighters Only to feature elite contestants during prestigious Reno Rodeo

RENO, Nev. – Not many would stare a beast in the eyes. Fewer yet would tangle with it.

But nine men will get that opportunity Sunday-Thursday when the Bullfighters Only Tour hits western Nevada for a four-night affair in conjunction with the annual Reno Rodeo.

“It’s very humbling to be able to work a rodeo that’s as prestigious, but as the cliché goes, hard work pays off,” said bullfighter Weston Rutkowski of Haskell, Texas. “For some reason, freestyle bullfighting wasn’t cool for a long time, but there was a handful of us who stayed with it. Now the fruits of our labor are paying off.”

Bullfighters Only is still in its infancy. In fact, the organization just celebrated its first year in existence, and, oh, how that toddler has grown in such a short amount of time.

“Bullfighters Only almost started by accident,” said Nate Jestes of Douglas, Wyo. “Aaron Ferguson started his website, and we were to showing off our abilities as a way to market the website. It was set up as a place for bullfighters to get things they might need. It was going to be a one-stop shop for bullfighters.

“It went on from there to putting on an event in Vegas during the National Finals Rodeo. I think ‘Ferg’ always had a vision for freestyle bullfighting as a sport, and he wanted to try his hand at putting on an event. It became a huge success, and a lot of people – a lot of people in the industry – showed interest in it.”

The tour was established, and the Reno Rodeo will be the 13th of more than 30 stops through the regular season. Freestyle bullfighting is not new to rodeo, and the Bullfighters Only has created public demand for the sport. The events feature man vs. beast in a head-to-head battle inside an arena. The bullfighters utilize their tremendous athleticism to try to outwit and outmaneuver equally athletic bulls, which were bred for this kind of fight.

With scores based on a 100-point scale, men can earn up to 50 points per fight based on their ability to exhibit control and style while maneuvering around or over an animal; a bull can earn up to 50 points based on its quickness, aggression and willingness to stay with the bullfighter.

Jestes and Rutkowski will be joined in Reno by Schell Apple of Fay, Okla.; Beau Schueth of O’Neill, Neb.; Evan Allard of Vinita, Okla.; Cody Greer of Chelsea, Okla.; Chuck Swisher of Dover, Okla; Zach Flatt of Fittstown, Okla.; and Ross Hill of Muscle Schoals, Ala.

“In my opinion, Bullfighters Only is the most elite set of guys that have ever been involved in freestyle bullfighting,” Jestes said. “There hasn’t been a set of 15 guys that are as strong and as talented that are going down the road at this time. It’s not only the elite guys, but the elite bulls, too.

“These are the kinds of bulls that allow us to showcase our abilities and our talents. We’re fighting bulls that are good, fun to fight and are fun to watch. I think that’s what sets Bullfighters Only apart from other freestyle events. It’s the best guys, it’s the best bulls, and it’s the best freestyle competition around.”

The growth of the BFO has been phenomenal. It features the top 15 in the sport and has reached more than 50 million people through its Facebook page with more than 12 million video views. It’s Instagram page has more than 51,000 engaged followers. Bullfighters Only paid out more than $125,000 to the contestants that play the game.

From national television coverage through its relationship with bull riding and The American to regular coverage on Rural Radio-Sirius 147, the buzz has continued to build.

The bulls are bred to be aggressive, and nothing is done to make them that way. In Reno, retired bullfighter Darrel Diefenbach will provide the animals through his 12X Fighting Bulls.

“This is an exciting time to see freestyle bullfighting,” Rutkowski said. “We, as Bullfighters Only, have brought back the extreme aspect of what us bullfighters do day in and day out.

“Now I’m getting the opportunity to go to some rodeos I’ve always dreamed about like Reno and Pendleton (Ore.) and Cody (Wyo.). I’ve heard about these rodeos since I was a little kid from my uncles, who all rode broncs there.”

In fact, many of the most prestigious events in ProRodeo are on the BFO tour schedule. Events with that much history stand as proof to the incredible showcase that is out there for the Bullfighters Only athletes.

“It’s definitely been a great whirlwind,” Jestes said. “It’s taken off way quicker than any of us expected. It’s so exciting that it’s almost overwhelming. We’ve wanted to be at places like this and have the sport where it’s at. To be involved in it and have some ownership in it is just amazing.

“In less than one year, we have gotten our sport and our type of bullfighting known worldwide. That’s just incredible.”

Men put their lives on the line through bouts with fast, agile, hoof-pounding machines. It’s the measure of a man that will face any adversity and find a way through every step, and it’s heading to Reno starting Sunday.

“This is our job every day,” Rutkowski said. “This is what we love to do. If you love something, you have no choice but to make it succeed. With all of us coming together as a team, we are Bullfighters Only. We are bound and determined to see this thing through.”

Each step the BFO has taken has been uphill and done at a rapid pace, but that’s the nature of freestyle bullfighting. Fighting bulls move quickly and swiftly, and the men who are in battle must do that, too, in order to not only be one of the best, but also to survive.

“What’s cool about Bullfighters Only is that the top 15 guys are part of what we call the Pioneer Project,” Jestes said. “It’s 15 of the sport’s best. We’re in it for each other and for the sport of freestyle bullfighting. No matter who wins, we’re happy for each other. It’s pretty amazing.”

postheadericon Taking the next step

Bullfighter, rodeo clown Burelle acquires Groundmaster stall flooring business

A chance meeting nearly two decades ago turned into great friendship for Bill and Jan Pearson and Andy Burelle. It’s now become much more than that.

Burelle and wife, Robyn, has recently acquired Groundmaster Products LLC from the Pearsons, taking their relationship to a new level.

Groundmaster-Logo“Bill and Jan have been amazing friends and mentors to me, and this is a great opportunity for Robyn and I as we move on to the next phase of our lives,” Burelle said.

In 1997 as a young bullfighter, Andy Burelle suffered an ankle injury in his first job protecting cowboys at a PRCA rodeo for J Bar J Rodeo Co. at the fairgrounds in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

That same day, after watching their horse run at the fairgrounds track, Bill and Jan Pearson stayed around to watch the rodeo that evening. Bill had attended college on a rodeo and football scholarship, so rodeo was in his blood; horseracing was in Jan’s.

The two noticed that Burelle was fighting through a lot of pain; after the rodeo, the Pearsons approached the bullfighter and asked him if he would allow them to alleviate his pain. At the time, the couple was in the Nikken magnet business and had helped many young bull riders with their devices.

“They gave me the magnets they had with them, and Bill promised he’d bring more products to me the next morning,” Burelle said. “The next day we basically forged a lifelong friendship.”

Burelle had an exceptional bullfighting career, earning world championships in both cowboy protection and freestyle bullfighting. It’s a rough business, as the athletes place themselves in harm’s way during bull riding to keep all others in the arena safe. Burelle has had more than his share of stitches, plates and screws over his career. In January 2015, he suffered a career-ending knee injury.

Again Bill and Jan Pearson had a solution to Burelle’s injury: a new career as a businessman. Groundmaster is now based in Ardmore, Okla., the Burelles’ hometown.

“This is a very exciting time,” Burelle said. “The plant is in full operation in Ardmore, and we have a vision of providing our customers with the world’s only one-piece, polyethylene stall flooring for the next 25 years and beyond.”

ABOUT GROUNDMASTER: It is the best stall-flooring product on the market today, with the ability to drain and breathe, thereby giving the horse a healthier stall environment. It is easily disinfected right from the top without having to remove it. Like no other stall flooring, Groundmaster is made of a high-density polyethylene in one-piece to fit stall requirements. It provides a level floor for fewer leg and back problems, and the edges will not curl up. With all the economic benefits Groundmaster provides, it will pay for itself over and over, plus the owner can spend more time with the horse rather than cleaning its stall.

postheadericon Carr helps rodeo uphold its legacy

BIG SPRING, Texas – For the past 83 years, this west Texas community has had a considerable legacy.

“We have a strong history, and we have a good amount of second-, third- and fourth-generation families that are still involved our rodeo,” said Dane Driver, a longtime member of the volunteer committee that organizes the annual Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo, set for 8 p.m. Thursday, June 16-Saturday, June 18, at the Big Spring Rodeo Bowl.

“The history and the legacy of what we’re about to do is what makes me the proudest.”

BigSpring-logoHe should be. The Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo is a major community event. Even more importantly is that locals are the ones behind the scenes, albeit a small group consisting of less than 30 people.

“I cannot brag enough on the volunteers that help put on our rodeo,” Driver said. “If it wasn’t for the strength of the individuals on the committee, it wouldn’t happen. Their heart is putting that rodeo on.

“The small-business owners who are on the committee always reroute their time and energy, and they have people in their offices who focus on the rodeo. They have to make major adjustments to their businesses to handle what they handle.”

Driver understands that better than most. He’s the third generation of his family to be involved in aspects of the celebration. By the time the competition begins later this week, the committee will hand over the bulk of the production to the staff from Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, a Dallas-based stock contracting company that has been part of the Big Spring rodeo for more than a decade.

“We are Pete’s first rodeo, and we’re proud of that,” Driver said. “I remember when he met with my dad and said what he’s about. It’s been that and more. It’s been a hell of a building process to watch his company grow. The good thing for us is that he’s grown our production. The production he’s done for us has done nothing but get better.

“What he does for our production is noticed. A lot of people can put on a rodeo, but very few can put a production on at the level Pete does. He constantly strives to have the best people in the industry with him.”

The Carr team produces dozens of rodeos a year and has been recognized as one of the very best stock contracting firms in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Pete Carr has been nominated as PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year four times, and no other contractor in ProRodeo has had more animals selected to perform at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo over the past three years.

“What I really like about Pete is that he has treated us like we’re one of the big winter rodeos,” Driver said. “He doesn’t treat us small even though we’re a small rodeo. He gets a lot of respect for that. It makes the local guys feel like they’re doing all this for a reason.

“When our committee hands him the reins, they’re confident they’re going to get the best bang for the buck.”

That’s a winning combination in Big Spring.