Editor’s note: This story originally aired on July 24, 2015
It’s another day at the bull riding event at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo and it’s another day of the rodeo announcer thanking bullfighter Darrell Diefenbach for knocking a bull away from a helpless bull rider who’d fallen to the ground. It’s something Diefenbach and his Frontier Days partner Dusty Tuckness do every day.
They are veteran bullfighters chosen to work Frontier Days because they are among the best in the world. Part of that is their attitude. For instance, Diefenbach has had a couple of physical battles with bulls in the last few days, but it’s part of the job he’s been doing for 25 years since he first got involved in rodeo in Queensland, Australia.
“You fight bulls long enough and get in front of enough bulls you are gonna get run over and if you are not prepared to get run over, you are in the wrong profession.”
Dusty Tuckness has been doing this since he was 12 years old in Meeteetse, Wyoming. He loves what he does never worries.
“You can’t panic, you can’t get out there and start getting scared and worried and stuff. You know me and Darrell, we are calm, our main objective is to save that bull rider at hand and then after that when we fall through and roll through we are going to pick the bulls off of each other we are going to get everybody up in good shape. And a lot of times it works out good, sometimes we’re gonna have to take some shots, but again that’s just part of the job.”
Tuckness said that there is a strategy to making sure the bull rider doesn’t get gored or trampled. It involves anticipating where the rider is going to land.
“When that gate opens we’re watching the bull, watching the cowboy, back and forth, back and forth, and so 9 times out of 10 we can be in a six-foot ballpark where that guy’s gonna hit the ground. So we want to be able to position ourselves in the spot when he does hit the ground where we can squeeze through there and direct the bull away.”
Under the arena where the bull riders hang out, bullfighters are much appreciated. Sage Kimzey is top money earner this year and he says bullfighters keep him healthy so that he can compete.
“Without them we’d be banged up even more than we already are and it’s a long road even with them, I would hate to imagine my job without the bullfighters.”
A couple of days ago Diefenbach and Tuckness got between a very mean bull and rider Ardie Maier. For a moment Maier thought the bull was going to hurt him.
“He had the option to line me out and they went in there and we all got out of there clean and it’s a good example of what them guys do and what you appreciate what they do.”
“Do you buy drinks when you see them later?”
Maier laughs. “No, I’ll buy them a beer once in a while I suppose, but I don’t need to buy them a beer for them to step in and save me. So it’s a pretty cool deal.”
But he probably should, for one simple fact. While the bill riders may get fewer injuries, the bullfighters get plenty. Diefenbach probably could put some insurance companies out of business.
“Broke my neck, broke my back twice, had to have a shoulder reconstructed, knee surgeries, this is my third eye socket in my right eye, ribs.”
Tuckness shrugs and said that injuries are part of the job. “You get patched up, rehab, and come back for more.”
Bullfighting might not be as glamorous as bull riding, but it is absolutely vital to keep the show going.