Roseo Clown

This is a look at the dangerous job of the rodeo clowns. It is far more dangerous than how it looks to the people in the grandstand. Imagine trying to jaywalk across five lanes of heavy traffic where most of the cars that are deliberately attempting to hit you! And then it happens. You take a direct shot from a Ford Fiesta at 25 miles per hour!

The idea of clowns came about as a way to keep the children in the audience from becoming restless and entertain the spectators in between shows or events. The clowns’ role has changed a lot since the beginning of rodeo. Rodeo clowns are known as “bullfighters” on today’s rodeo circuits.

In the earliest days of rodeo, the bullfighter clown did everything. He clowned, entertained and protected the cowboys. It was too much job for one man. Today in professional rodeo you will have at least two bullfighters who do nothing but protect the fallen cowboys after their dismount from the bull. The bullfighters and the barrelman work hand in hand during the freestyle bullfighting. When a bullfighter is asked if he would get in the barrel, he probably answer, “are you crazy!”

There are three different types of rodeo clowns representing three different jobs. The “bullfighter” clown is mainly concerned with protecting the cowboy rider. A “barrelman” stays in a barrel during the cowboy’s ride and emerges to distract the bull when needed. The “comedy clowns” are primarily crowd entertainers.

The main priority of rodeo clowns has now become to protect the bull riders from serious injuries or death. These bullfighters and barrelmen often endanger their own lives to save the rodeo cowboy. They strive to distract the bull so the rider can escape to the nearest gate or rail. These one ton bulls are very different from the horses. A horse will try to avoid stepping on a downed cowboy. On the other hand, some bulls actually will go out of their way to attack anything that gets in their path. Bulls can compete for many years, and they can learn from their mistakes and change their strategies to gain the upper hand. Added to that, they are specifically bred to be smaller, quicker and more agile.

Beneath their funny costumes, the rodeo clowns are clad with special protective equipment similar to football player. These help protect them from injuries to their chests, ribs, thighs, hips, tailbones, shins and ankles.

Even with this special equipment, injuries to the bullfighting clowns are common. According to “Scooter” Culbertson, a professional rodeo clown, bullfighter and barrelman for the Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association, “Getting hit by a bull is like getting hit by a car going 20 mph. It’s not if you are going to get hurt. It’s when and how bad.” During 23 years of rodeo, Culbertson reportedly suffered 24 broken bones, three concussions, a dislocated jaw, internal injuries, and a torn-off ear.

Most barrels are made of aluminum and some are made of fiberglass or steel. They do have a little padding inside to absorb some of the shock. This padding also aids the barrelman in sliding down inside the barrel. They can’t have too much padding, because of the need for freedom to move about in the barrel and to fit inside easily. Inside, he presses out against the barrel and then pushes back on his head to reduce the force of the collision. They are also padded on the outside to protect the bulls. It is very rare that a bull gets injured.

If a bull drops his head on the barrel, it can work his horns inside.  The barrelmen depend on the busy bullfighter to communicate with them. However, often he has to decide on which move to make next. You can be left stranded. The bullfighters look out for him as much as they can by handling the barrel so that it is not exposed to the charging bull.

When the clown is hit by a bull and not set in the barrel, they can suffer whiplash injuries. The clown has to make sure they do not get knocked out of the open end. They cannot move around in the barrel during the tossing or they will get hurt.. In addition to the punishment, the clown can suffer motion sickness or become disoriented after the impact. Not unlike a passenger in a car accident there is nothing to do but ride it out!

The first Pro Rodeo Bullfight Tour was held in 1980. At that time they created the bullfights and dangerous stunts that the clowns are still performing. In rodeo, bullfighting does not resemble the Spanish type of bullfighting in any way. The rodeo bulls always leave the arena alive and unharmed.

By David K. Whitlock


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