Two Kansas men put their lives at risk every time they go into rodeo ring

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News
Bullfighter Richard Ratley jumps over a bull with bullfighter Wacey Munsell during the Pretty Prairie Rodeo on Wednesday night.

PRETTY PRAIRIE — Although they both grew up in Kansas and they both are professional rodeo bullfighters, their path into the ring could not have been more different. 

Wacey Munsell, 34, grew up with cattle on a ranch in Ulysses. He watched his dad Doug distract the bulls in the ring. According to him, a third-generation rodeo man, rodeoing is in his bones.

Richard Ratley, 30, grew up in Hutchinson and attended Nickerson schools. Growing up, all he had on his mind was basketball. He even went to Barton Community College on a basketball scholarship.

This past weekend, Munsell and Ratley, both members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, worked together to defend bull riders from bulls at the 84th Annual Pretty Prairie Rodeo. Once a competitor falls off a bull, the bullfighters must distract the 2,000-pound animal from the bull rider. The job requires agility, brains and most of all — courage.

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Bullfighter Wacey Munsell redirects the bull's attention away from the cowboy during Wednesday night's Pretty Prairie Rodeo.

After he hurt his knee, Ratley transferred to Dodge City Community College and started riding bulls. One time, he was the first one on a bull and watched the other contestants.

"I rode the bull, and I said 'what does it take to fight a bull?'" he said. 

Bullfighter Richard Ratley draws the bull's attention away from a cowboy during the Pretty Prairie Rodeo Wednesday night.

That was the last time Ratley rode a bull — he was hooked. Since then, he has broken fingers and ribs, but he keeps going. He loves the thrill, he said.

Munsell, on the other hand, grew up in the grandstand. Along with his father in the ring, he had an uncle and granddad out there as well. 

"I knew I'd be involved in the rodeo," he said. "I just didn't know I'd be a bullfighter."

Bullfighter Richard Ratley laughs with cowboys before the start of the Pretty Prairie Rodeo Wednesday night.

By 14, Munsell was team roping and riding bulls, but by the time he turned 17, in addition to riding bulls, he was fighting them as well.

"That bull can see you; he's going to follow you. The best way to do it, is you be the aggressor," Munsell said. "You grab hold of the animal. You (say) heh or you whistle."

In 2020, Munsell was one of five bullfighters nominated for the PRCA bullfighter of the year. In 2019, he was one of six. Munsell holds titles as World Champion Freestyle Bullfighter as well as National Champion Freestyle Bullfighter. In 2018, he worked nine performances at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

Bullfighter Wacey Munsell puts on his makeup before the start of the Pretty Prairie Rodeo, Kansas' Largest Night Rodeo.

The bullfighters try to get the crowd involved. 

If Mansell and Ratley, who now lives in Sharon, feel like not enough bull riders are being successful, the two play with the bull — usually leaving the barrel man to escape into his barrel and get kicked and rolled by the bull.

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"We'll go there and put on a little bit extra," Munsell said. 

Munsell worked his first professional show in Denver. For Ratley, it was Oklahoma. Every once in a while the two men's paths cross and they get paired. The two are excited to work in Kansas together. Most of the time, they are traveling the country.

Munsell and Ratley's favorite rodeos include some in Colorado, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Texas, but one really special one for Munsell is back home in Kansas in Dodge City.

All kidding and costumes aside, both men take their job as protector seriously.

"I love the adrenaline rush," Ratley said, "and being there for my buddies when they're riding."

They both also understand they must have each other's back.

"We're there for each other," Munsell said. "If he goes down, I go in and help him."