Archive for July, 2018

postheadericon Branch wins Dodge City title

Roger Branch, center, receives his Western Beverage Dodge City Roundup Rodeo championship buckle after winning the steer roping title Tuesday afternoon. He is flanked by Dr. R.C. Trotter, left, the Roundup president, and John Bogner with Western Beverage. (PHOTO BY DAVID SEYMORE)

Roger Branch, center, receives his Western Beverage Dodge City Roundup Rodeo championship buckle after winning the steer roping title Tuesday afternoon. He is flanked by Dr. R.C. Trotter, left, the Roundup president, and John Bogner with Western Beverage. (PHOTO BY DAVID SEYMORE)

Dodge City Roundup Rodeo
Steer Roping
July 31, 2018
Steer roping: First round: 1. Trevor Brazile, 10.5 seconds, $1,863; 2. Scott Snedecor, 10.7, $1,542; 3. Landon McClaugherty, 11.0, $1,220; 4. Brady Garten, 11.5, $899; 5. Rod Hartness, 11.8, $578; 6. Roger Branch, 12.2, $321. Second round: 1. Rocky Patterson, 9.4 seconds, $1,863; 2. (tie) Ralph Williamsand Jarrett Blessing, 9.8, $1,381 each; 4. Chris Glover, 11.0, $899; 5. Cody Lee, 10.3, $578; 6. Brent Lewis, 10.5, $321. Third round: 1. Tuf Cooper, 9.3 seconds, $1,863; 2. Blake Deckard, 9.6, $1,541; 3. Brady Garten, 9.9, $1,220; 4. (tie) Tony Reina and Ty Herd, 10.2, $739 each; 6. Marty Jones, 10.3, $321. Average: 1. Roger Branch, 35.1 seconds on three runs, $2,794; 2. Brady Garten, 35.3, $2,312; 3. Trevor Brazile, 37.2, $1,831; 4. Marty Jones, 37.8, $1,349; 5. Vin Fisher Jr., 38.9, $867; 6. Ryan Willberg, 39.4, $482.

postheadericon Fair and rodeo is a great value

Fairgoers show up strong to the Lea County Fair and Rodeo. There is a tremendous value that comes with the $10 adult gate admission, whether it's Xtreme Bulls on Tuesday night or Martina McBride on Saturday.

Fairgoers show up strong to the Lea County Fair and Rodeo. There is a tremendous value that comes with the $10 adult gate admission, whether it’s Xtreme Bulls on Tuesday night or Martina McBride on Saturday.

LOVINGTON, N.M. – The children point to the bright lights and exciting rides on the carnival’s midway.

The agriculture folks look at the wonderful lessons and great experiences with all the exhibits and shows.

The rodeo fans direct attention to the award-winning and historic rodeo at Jake McClure Arena and the elite contestants that make their way to the area every year to compete for big money.

Others, still, are ready for the great concert lineup:

Friday, Aug. 3: Polo Urias and Grupo Intocable
Tuesday, Aug. 7: Koe Wetzel
Wednesday, Aug. 8: TobyMac
Thursday, Aug. 9: Aaron Watson
Friday, Aug. 10: Easton Corbin
Saturday, Aug. 11: Martina McBride

But the biggest factor that makes the Lea County Fair and Rodeo such a success and fairgoers’ favorite is the overall value that comes with this amazing entertainment package, set for Friday, Aug. 3-Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Lea County Fairgrounds in Lovington.

Adult tickets are just $10, with children 6-12 getting through the gates for just $5; children 5 and younger are free.

“We are able to keep our ticket prices low, because the Lea County Commission underwrites the entire fair and rodeo,” said Kathy Welborn, vice chairwoman of the Lea County Fair Board. “In addition to our great ticket prices, our Wednesday night is Faith and Family night, and there is no admission cost.

“It’s our biggest night, and it brings in a lot of people.”

There is also a big list of local sponsors that help with the financial side of things. Those sponsors are another big reason the ticket prices haven’t risen more than $5 over the last eight years.

It’s all about entertaining as many people as possible, which has been the case for more than eight decades.

“What makes this event so great is all the planning that goes into it,” Welborn said. “The day the gates open, to see all those kids going through there is amazing. We’re all about the families.

“It’s the great food, the great feelings of accomplishment. There are so many people involved in it, and it takes many people to make it happen.”

postheadericon Staff, volunteers are fair’s backbone

Lea County Fair Board member Trey Kerby, the chairman of the rodeo committee, looks over the competition while performing various duties for the Lea County Fair and Rodeo.

Lea County Fair Board member Trey Kerby, the chairman of the rodeo committee, looks over the competition while performing various duties for the Lea County Fair and Rodeo.

LOVINGTON, N.M. – Tens of thousands of people come through the gates of the Lea County Fairgrounds every August.

That’s because the Lea County Fair and Rodeo is a big deal. It’s not just folks from the southeastern-most county in New Mexico, but people from all over the Southwest who make the exposition a major entertainment spot.

That kind of popularity means it takes a crew of hundreds of people to make things happen at the fair and rodeo, set for Aug. 3-11 in Lovington. It’s a combination of talented staff members working closely with dedicated volunteers.

“The fair board is made up of volunteers, and every committee is made up of volunteers,” said Kathy Welborn, vice chairwoman of the Lea County Fair Board. “It literally takes hundreds of volunteers to put this fair and rodeo on. We just couldn’t do it without each of them.”

That says so much about the types of people that make Lea County their home. It is a rugged terrain with hard-working individuals who know what it means to put in a day’s labor to make ends meet, then work a little more to help others.

“The rodeo committee is completely volunteer,” said Trey Kerby, a fair board member and chairman of the rodeo committee. “They don’t have to show up, and they work all year. They have a meeting every month. Being on the fair board and being chairman of the committee, I’ve chosen to have that responsibility.

“These guys show up every month, then they show up to the rodeo that week. With slack starting at 11 a.m. and the rodeo starting at 7 pm., it’s all rodeo all the time for five days.”

But it’s not just the rodeo committee that puts in many hours; it’s every committee and sub-committee that is associated with the fair.

“They put their lives on hold to put on this fair and rodeo,” Kerby said. “I really appreciate those guys and gals that have the interest to do this for the Lea County Fair and Rodeo.”

It’s a collaborative effort. Each volunteer understands he or she has the support of the Lea County staff and the Lea County Commission.

“Our commissioners have all worked hard on this,” Welborn said. “Our general manager, Jim Kemp, has worked hard on this. They have made things like this great. We have great cooperation from all around the county.”

Kemp has been part of the operation for many years and took over as GM a little more than a year ago. His hard work is just proof of what it takes to produce a top-flight exposition.

“Jim is an upright and upstanding man,” Welborn said. “He’s done things the right way. He’s for Lea County. He is a very good manager, and people really like him.

“The community is a big part of the Lea County Fair and Rodeo. It makes us really proud to have such outstanding commissioners who are for our fair and rodeo and all the things they do for the county.”

postheadericon Hard work pays off in Salinas

Ross Hill celebrates after winning the final round and the average title at the Bullfighters Only Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop at California Rodeo Salinas. After a year and a half away from the game, Hill returned from injury to reach the top in Salinas.

Ross Hill celebrates after winning the final round and the average title at the Bullfighters Only Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop at California Rodeo Salinas. After a year and a half away from the game, Hill returned from injury to reach the top in Salinas.

Hill completes comeback during BFO Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop

SALINAS, Calif. – Between them, Ross Hill and Nathan Harp have undergone two surgeries and two years of rehabilitation over the last 14 months.

Their persistence paid off this past weekend at the Bullfighters Only Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop at California Rodeo Salinas. Hill won the overall crown by winning the final two nights of freestyle bullfighting, edging Harp by just half a point in the process, 326.5 to the Okie’s 326.

“Starting out fresh, I knew by the final round on Sunday that I would have it figured out,” said Hill, a BFO pioneer who has missed the last year and a half of action. “I had to get back into the swing of things, but after the first two rounds, I felt like I could dial it back in like I knew how to fight a bad Spanish bull.”

Hill had a serious ACL tear, with the original injury occurring in 2009 and compounding from there. He reinjured the same knee twice in 2016, which caused additional damage to his meniscus. Surgery took place this past January, and he was cleared to compete again last week.

“It feels good to know my knee is in good shape,” said Hill of Muscle Shoals, Ala. “I have a lot of confidence about my physical condition. My knee feels amazing. This is the first year that I can remember not being sore.”

The “Alabama Slammer” won the Salinas title for the third time in his career: He shared the title with fellow BFO pioneer Dusty Tuckness in 2007, then won it outright the following year. Those that have tracked his progress since surgery knew it would be possible.

“When he injured it many years ago, then re-did it again in 2016, that was the final straw,” said Keith Skates, the sports medicine coordinator for Fit N Wise Sports Medicine and Bullfighters Only. “When Dr. (Bob) Clifford did the surgery, he noticed that Ross had two bucket-handle tears in his meniscus. To have one was pretty intense, but to have two is an even bigger deal.

“The ACL was so ruptured that it started to grow through his PCL.”

That was a lot of work to be done on one knee. Harp knows about that. When he was injured in April 2017, his surgeon had to repair the ACL, a torn MCL and torn meniscus. He went back to work in cowboy protection this past December, but Salinas was his first time back in a freestyle competition.

“It was great to be back in front of some fighting bulls,” said Harp of Tuttle, Okla. “I’ve fought a lot of rodeos since December, but to nod my head for one for 60 seconds was exciting. I was at the most peace and had the most fun at a freestyle bullfight in a long time. It felt good to be back and enjoying it the way it’s supposed to be.”

With the victory, Hill took the lion’s share of the payout, earning $6,400. Harp collected $5,400. Both paydays will come in handy as the men look to qualify for the BFO Las Vegas Championship, which takes place annually at Tropicana Hotel & Casino and featuring the biggest prize money in the game.

“The guys at Fit N Wise helped me in getting my physical conditioning back,” Hill said. “I’d go in there every day and do workouts. We’d steadily progress my workouts. As I’d gotten stronger, the workouts were more intense. I was feeling better than I had in a long time.”

That’s exactly how Harp felt through the four rounds of tough competition in Salinas.

“I definitely wanted to win, but it was awesome to see Ross make his comeback,” Harp said. “I remember how it was when I first came back to work. I don’t know if I could win an event on my first bull back. For him to do that against the competition there, it was pretty awesome to see.”

RESULTS
1. Ross Hill, 326.5 points on four fights; 2. Nathan Harp, 326; 3. Zach Flatt, 321; 4. Cody Emerson, 319.5; 5. Weston Rutkowski, 316.5; 6. Toby Inman, 309.5.

postheadericon Cowboys love Roundup Rodeo

Reigning four-time world champion bull rider Sage Kimzey is one of many top athletes who are expected to return to Dodge City this August for Roundup Rodeo.

Reigning four-time world champion bull rider Sage Kimzey is one of many top athletes who are expected to return to Dodge City this August for Roundup Rodeo.

DODGE CITY, Kan. – Every August, folks all across southwest Kansas have the opportunity to see the greatest stars ProRodeo has to offer.

This is a preview of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, only four months early during the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo, set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1-Sunday, Aug. 5, at Roundup Arena. That also includes the Xtreme Bulls, which takes place Tuesday, July 31.

Last year’s champions read like a who’s who among NFR qualifiers: Boudreaux Campbell and Steve Woolsey won the Xtreme Bulls, while bareback rider Tilden Hooper, steer wrestler Tom Lewis, tie-down roper Timber Moore, steer roper Vin Fisher Jr. and bull rider Shane Proctor were just five of the rodeo titlists. All have an NFR resume, and Proctor is a world champion.

“We take pride in having the kind of rodeo that attracts the top cowboys and cowgirls in the game,” said Dr. R.C. Trotter, president of the Roundup committee, a group of volunteers that works year-round to produce the rodeo each August.

“We love that they want to come here, and we want them back every year.”

Roundup is historic with a fantastic legacy. Over the years, it has been home to the greatest cowboys to have ever played the game. In fact, the rodeo committee was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2012 and continues to be recognized as one of the best events in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

“This is a great rodeo” said Hooper, a four-time NFR qualifier from Carthage, Texas. “It’s one of my favorites to come to every year, and I’ve always had good luck here.”

Roundup has been selected as the PRCA Rodeo of the Year nine times, and the contestants recognize that. Shade Etbauer became the second generation of his family to win the saddle bronc title; his father, Robert, and uncles, Dan and Billy, all won Roundup through the 1980s and ’90s.

“It’s always tough competition and the top guys in the world,” said the younger Etbauer, the 2017 PRCA Rookie of the Year from Goodwell, Okla. “To be able to compete against them is incredible.”

Contestants will compete in preliminary rounds, with the top times and scores advancing to the championship round, which takes place Sunday, Aug. 5. That night’s field will include several reigning and past world champions, all of whom had competed at some point earlier in the week.

“What we like about the format is that be best of the best in our short round Sunday night,” Trotter said. “It really is an NFR preview. Nearly all the contestants competing that night have been or will be competing in Las Vegas at some point.”

The first stop, though, is Dodge City. It’s home to the largest rodeo in Kansas, with the most contestants vying for the largest purse. In fact, Roundup features one of the largest purses in the PRCA, which is another reason it’s so attractive to the contestants.

“The committee is so good to us, and we appreciate them,” said Tom Lewis, an NFR qualifier from Lehi, Utah. “It’s nice driving this far and making it pay off.”

postheadericon Oder wins home-state title

California’s Colt Oder stands tall among the Redwoods

FORTUNA, Calif. – Colt Oder only thought he’d been to the northern reaches of his home-state before.

“I’ve been to San Francisco, but another four or five hours further and I wasn’t sure that I’d still be in California,” he said.

Colt Oder makes a jump over his bull Friday during the Bullfighters Only stop in Fortuna, Calif. (PHOTO BY CAROL LINES)

Colt Oder makes a jump over his bull Friday during the Bullfighters Only stop in Fortuna, Calif. (PHOTO BY CAROL LINES)

Raised in the southern California town of Moorpark, Oder found true north on Friday when he competed in the Bullfighters Only stand-alone event in Fortuna. Not only was it his first time competing among the Sequoia trees and rowdy fans that Fortuna is known for, he also walked away as the event champion.

“I had a pretty weak first round and didn’t think I was going to make it out, but the cards played in my favor and I made the short round,” said Oder, who won his opening round with a 79-point fight, then put together an 86-point bout with Costa Fighting Bulls’ Little Foot to claim the top prize and $6,000.

“Colt is one of the most persistent people I’ve ever met,” said Aaron Ferguson, BFO’s founder and CEO. “He’s been to five of our Development Camps in two years and is getting better with every bull that he fights. Pair that with his unbelievable toughness, and the kid is going to be a big factor in the sport.”

Oder was joined in the Hooey Championship Round by the other three of the BFO’s most promising rookies: Alex McWilliams of Paso Robles, Calif.; Tucker Lane of Oak Grove, Mo.; and Chance Moorman of Lytle, Texas.

“I fought Little Foot last year in Lewiston (Idaho), and I didn’t capitalize on it,” said Oder, who also scored his first BFO win in Crosby, Texas, earlier this year. “When I got back to the short round here and I had Little Foot, I knew I had a good opportunity to make up for it.

“I was pretty happy to have Little Foot in the short round. He’s a solid, honest bull that will come to you with a lot of head for the whole bullfight. Once you’re in a zone, you’ll stay hooked up with you. I knew I could do a solid flat-foot jump right out of the gate.”

The victory propels the California bullfighter ahead in the Pendleton Whisky World Standings with $16,400. The recent windfall should ensure Oder’s berth into the 2018 BFO Las Vegas Championship, held annually at Tropicana Hotel & Casino and featuring the biggest prize money in the game.

“This is a huge confidence-booster for me,” Oder said. “It was great to get the win in my home state. The money should bump me up a little bit in the standings, and I was needing it.”

RESULTS
Round 1: 1. Alex McWilliams, 82.5 points; 2. Miles Barry, 79; 3. Kris Furr, 0.
Round 2: 1. Tucker Lane, 85 points; 2. Knox Dunn, 81; 3. Seth Wilson, 0.
Round 3: 1. Chance Moorman, 87 points; 2. Justin Ward, 84.5; 3. Justin Josey, 76.
Round 4: 1. Colt Oder, 79 points; 2. Beau Schueth, 77.5; 3. Eli Sharkey, 77.
Championship Round: 1. Colt Oder, 86 points; 2. Chance Moorman, 84; 3. Tucker Lane, 82; 4. Alex McWilliams, 0.

postheadericon Guymon rodeo building on success

Pickup man Jeremy Willis sits in front of a good Friday night crowd at the 2018 Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, which was successful.

Pickup man Jeremy Willis sits in front of a good Friday night crowd at the 2018 Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, which was successful.

GUYMON, Okla. – The Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo has always been the centerpiece to the annual community celebration.

It’s a big deal in Texas County, Okla., with thousands enjoying the festivities around town around the first weekend of May. It’s also a huge undertaking, with dozens of volunteers working diligently year-round to make sure event goes off without a hitch.

With outstanding weather all week long, the 2018 edition of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame event was one of the best in recent history. Hundreds of contestants made their way to the Oklahoma Panhandle to battle for that prestigious title, and thousands of fans flocked to Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena to enjoy the shows.

“If I put a grade on our rodeo this year, I would give it an 85 or a 90,” said Mitch Egger, in his first year serving as chairman of the volunteer committee that produces the annual rodeo. “I think everything went well, and the ticket sales were good.

“I think the action was amazing, and everyone really enjoyed the return of the muley team roping. Our stands were a third full for those events during slack, so that says something about having muleys.”

Hornless cattle were used in team roping for the first time since 2007. It had always been a staple of Guymon’s rodeo, but there were 11 years that the cattle weren’t available, so the committee utilized traditional corriente steers.

After the rodeo struggled financially, Egger made it a point that the committee was to be a good steward of the money it invested into the largest annual event in Guymon.

“We’re about $20,000 profitable after the 2017 expenses were paid,” said Egger, who operates a financial planning business. “We had great volunteers. They were absolutely outstanding.

“Our sponsorships were up a little, but the biggest thing was that we cut expenses. We made little changes that made a big difference. We streamlined concessions to make it easier.”

Sponsors are a key ingredient to producing an event the size of Pioneer Days Rodeo. It’s a marketing opportunity for them: Their brand awareness is increased in front of a large audience, and they show their support for helping produce one of the best rodeos in the country.

“The sponsors seemed to be happy, which is what we want,” he said. “We implemented a few changes this year, and we’re already looking to build on that for next near. We’re already looking at some things we want to do next year to attract more people, especially for our two afternoon performances.”

Like any building project, each block added to the foundation will just make it stronger. That’s exactly what Egger and the rest of the committee is doing.

postheadericon Carr firm key to rodeo’s success

Orin Larsen rides Pete Carr's Scarlet's Web for 90 points to win the Lea County Fair and Rodeo last year. He's one of many Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifiers that trust Carr livestock when they compete in Lovington, N.M., every August. (PHOTO BY PEGGY GANDER)

Orin Larsen rides Pete Carr’s Scarlet’s Web for 90 points to win the Lea County Fair and Rodeo last year. He’s one of many Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifiers that trust Carr livestock when they compete in Lovington, N.M., every August. (PHOTO BY PEGGY GANDER)

LOVINGTON, N.M. – Trey Kerby makes no bones about what makes Lovington’s rodeo so great.

“Pete Carr and his crew are one of the most important parts of our rodeo,” said Kerby, chairman of the rodeo committee for the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8-Saturday, Aug. 11, at Jake McClure Arena; that also includes Lea County Xtreme Bulls, which is Tuesday, Aug. 7.

“That’s what keeps this rodeo as big as it is, with the big names and the people that come to town. They will travel a long way to do it. They will turn down a rodeo closer to them so they can get on the stock Pete Carr has.”

He’s referring to Dallas-based Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, one of the largest livestock producers in the sport. Carr has been nominated five times as Stock Contractor of the Year in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Over the last five years, the Carr firm has had more animals selected to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo than any other stock contractor.

Over the last 13 years, the company has had four animals selected as PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year: Real Deal, Big Tex, Deuces Night and Dirty Jacket.

“It’s a pretty important role in our rodeo,” Kerby said. “If you’ve just got some stock, you’re not going to get the big names to show up to your rodeo. That’s who our fans come to watch, the best of the best. Anything that can get the best guys and the best girls here is pretty important to us.”

The proof is in the firepower that is the Lea County Fair and Rodeo. Last year’s champions read like a list of who’s who of the greatest stars in rodeo: Bareback rider Orin Larsen, a three-time NFR qualifier; steer wrestler Matt Reeves, a six-time NFR qualifier; saddle bronc rider Heith DeMoss, a nine-time finalist; tie-down roper Cory Solomon, a five-timer; and barrel racer Taci Bettis, who earned her first trip to Vegas last year.

Larsen posted the highest-marked ride of last year’s rodeo, a 90-point marking on Carr’s Scarlet’s Web, a 16-year-old bay mare that has bucked at the NFR 11 times.

“Any win like this, big or small, is huge for me at this point,” said Larsen of Ingles, Manitoba. “That’s just a great horse that I’ve wanted to get on for a long time.

“It was pretty cool to get on her here.”

He wasn’t the only one who found success on Carr bucking horses. Sterling Crawley, a four-time NFR qualifier, placed on Carr’s Miss Molly in Lovington a year ago.

“This is a great rodeo,” Crawley said. “The bucking stock is outstanding. When you go to a Pete Carr rodeo, everybody’s got a chance to win.

“This is a good time of year. This rodeo has a lot of money, and the crowd is always good. That’s hard to pass up.”

That is the perfect combination for fans who take in the Lea County Fair and Rodeo in 2018.

postheadericon Kings are key for horse show

LOVINGTON, N.M. – For Judy and Bill King, being volunteers for the Lea County Fair and Rodeo has been an important part of their lives.

She was the horse superintendent from 2007-17, a position that had her overseeing about 35 youngsters involved in the horse program and their families. That means she and her husband have impacted the lives of hundreds of Lea County residents.

“All the youth have been good kids and have a great future ahead of them,” said Judy King of Knowles, N.M.

And that, in turn, is what has been the driving force behind the couple’s volunteerism. Whether it involved gathering the sponsorships necessary for the awards or feeding the families, the Kings have been an important piece of the puzzle for all those involved in the Lea County Fair and Rodeo’s horse show.

In fact, every year, two saddles and 22 buckles are needed for the awards. During her first year in the position, Judy King found a bit of divine intervention in obtaining the prizes. Realizing she had no money to pay for such items, she began searching for an appropriate saddle-maker to assist. Twister Cain’s Twister Saddle Co. answered the call.

The timing didn’t look to be in King’s favor. Cain explained that every saddle was custom made by hand, and there weren’t any in stock. However, the American Junior Rodeo Association had ordered two extra saddles and did not need them, so they were transitioned to work for the Lovington horse show.

Cain offered the saddles even though he knew the funds weren’t readily available. He explained that it was “a God thing,” and that King could mail the money to him when she had it. By the end of business that day, the Kings had the money necessary to cover the cost of the prizes, and their faith had paid off.

Every year since, the horse show winners have received the prizes they’ve earned. But the work the Kings have done over the years hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“They’ve put in a lot of time and effort into making our horse show what it is,” said Kathy Welborn, vice chairwoman of the Lea County Fair Board. “They have been amazing volunteers.”

Judy King has established a June horse clinic with a renowned trainer for exhibitors and also helped find sponsors for youngsters who couldn’t afford the clinics. During the horse shows, Welborn said, Judy King was dedicated to the supervision in the horse barn and helped maintain the animals’ well-being.

Having Bill by her side has always been a big plus for Judy King, and they handled everything they could for horsemanship and horses in Lea County.

“It’s a really big job,” Welborn said. “They deserve a lot of credit for doing a big job they aren’t paid to do.”

But that’s the importance of volunteerism, and the Kings have proven it for several years.

postheadericon Hill is healthy, happy again

Ross Hill returns to Bullfighters Only action this weekend at the Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop at California Rodeo Salinas. (PHOTO BY TODD BREWER)

Ross Hill returns to Bullfighters Only action this weekend at the Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop at California Rodeo Salinas. (PHOTO BY TODD BREWER)

Veteran bullfighter has regained his place in time for BFO bullfights in Salinas

Ross Hill didn’t really want to take a break from freestyle bullfighting, but his body was demanding it.

A knee injury originally suffered in 2009 reared its head twice in 2016, sidelining the Bullfighters Only pioneer and forcing Hill to re-evaluate his career, his passions and his life.

“I just needed a break from bullfighting,” said Hill, 35, of Muscle Shoals, Ala. “I had done it for money all my life. There comes a time when it’s got to be worth more than money. I went until I couldn’t go any further; 2016 was my final year on that knee. It was the start of the BFO and the last of the Mohicans for the old ‘Alabama Slamma.’

“I had an ACL replacement surgery, and they cleaned up a couple of meniscus tears. It was a pretty horrific surgery. The second time I hurt it in 2016 did it in. I just have to say to any kid out there to never go that long without surgery. Get that thing fixed.”

But it wasn’t the end of a brilliant career. In fact, Hill returns to action this week at the BFO Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop in Salinas, Calif., one of the most storied events in freestyle bullfighting history. The bullfights run four straight days, taking place Friday, July 19-Monday, July 22, in conjunction with the California Rodeo Salinas.

“I don’t know what it’s like to sit out and come back, but the time I took off has all added up to this one moment in Salinas,” Hill said. “It was so worth it to be here and be healthy. Just to know I took the time to work out and took the time to get my knee fixed and took the time to heal myself.

“I’ve been eating better stuff, working out hard and doing some personal growth work. It took me a year of personal growth work and seeing what it is that makes me great to get me ready for this moment.”

It’s not the only big event for this weekend. The next BFO stand-alone event will feature 12 of the top bullfighters in the game Saturday, July 20, in Fortuna, Calif. It will feature four 3-man rounds, with the winners advancing to the Hooey Championship Round. Though he’ll still be in Salinas for that five-man, four-round bullfight, Hill knows how special the BFO is to the game he’s loved most of his life.

“The thing about the BFO is it’s the best bullfighters in the world, and I have yet to win that title,” he said. “Now that we’ve started the BFO, it’s like a whole new set of goals.”

In Salinas, Hill will be matched with Weston Rutkowski, the reigning two-time world champion from Haskell, Texas, and Toby Inman, the No. 1 man in the BFO Pendleton Whisky World Standings and the defending Salinas champion. Hill will know quickly if he is up to par; also in the mix are Nathan Harp of Tuttle, Okla., Cody Emerson of Marble Falls, Texas, and Zach Flatt of Fittstown, Okla.

“Salinas is a magical place,” Hill said. “It’s in the valley between two mountains. The weather is always 50 degrees at night and 75 in the daytime. I think it has a lot to do with the people, the community and the rodeo. It’s just a good rodeo with a long history.”

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