HILL CITY — An angry bull was loose in the arena. Three cowboys, wearing limited protective gear and face paint, ran toward the bull, effectively egging it on.
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned freestyle bullfights were the grand finale of Tuesday night’s Jayhawker Roundup Rodeo at the Graham County Fairgrounds. Conner Rowley was one of three athletes competing Tuesday, after winning the same contest in Monday night’s round.
Rowley wasn’t so lucky Tuesday, taking a few hits from the bull that were strong enough to send him airborne. The resident of Westcliffe, Colo., didn’t seem to think much about the incident and quickly reassured others he was “all right.”
The athlete has been fighting bulls for nearly five years and travels throughout the United States to compete. He grew up around rodeo; his father also fought bulls.
“It’s just like anything,” Rowley said of the hobby. “You love it. Just like playing football; you keep playing it.”
The rodeo in Hill City this year marked its 65th anniversary and is one of few rodeos in the state to feature a bullfighting competition, said rodeo president Louis Schindler. The three-day event concluded Wednesday night and drew a total of 230 contestants, many of whom traveled from out of state.
The rodeo also features traditional contests such as barrel racing, calf roping and bull riding. The show always draws a good crowd, and adding the bullfighting last year has been an exciting addition for local fans, he said.
“We added it last year to see how it went over,” Schindler said. “The grandstands were full, and people stayed there right until the end of it.”
Bullfighting had been a big part of rodeo culture until approximately 17 years ago. It then started to die out, but the sport is seeing a resurgence.
The bull riding also drew several competitors and an enthusiastic audience. A highlight of the contest was when Kansas cowboy Laramie Mosley, Satanta, stayed on for a full ride and earned 88.5 points.
For many cowboys and cowgirls competing Tuesday, rodeo has been part of their life as long as they can remember. Justin Rumford grew up around rodeo; his father, Bronc, is the rodeo coach at Fort Hays State University.
Rumford, who now lives in Ponca City, Okla., was a barrelman to help protect the competitors in Tuesday night’s competition. While the decision to ride and fight bulls often is called “crazy” by people outside of rodeo, the athletes are trained professionals who know what they’re doing, he said.
“We work with these fighting bulls. We respect them and understand how they work. We know their mannerisms and we prepare,” Justin Rumford said. “It looks a little wild, but at the end of the day, it’s the original extreme sport.”
His family has been raising rodeo stock in Kansas for approximately 70 years. Rumford grew up producing rodeos and competing as a steer wrestler. He later attended college on a rodeo scholarship.
Rumford now travels coast-to-coast for rodeo contests 11 months of the year. He said he enjoys the lifestyle and noted it can be a good way to make a living.
“We set our own price. We set our own schedule,” he said. “It pays great. You get to pretty much just vacation for 11 months out of the year. It’s a good life.”