Very few of us will ever come face to face, let alone what it feels like to ride 2,000 pounds of an agitated, mean-spirited, raging bull.
Phill Hussmann, rodeo director and resident of Willow Brook Farms in Northampton, has experienced both — first, as a professional rodeo bull rider, then for the last 20 years as a rodeo protection athlete, otherwise known as a rodeo clown or rodeo bullfighter.
“My job during competition is to project the cowboys by putting myself between the bull and the rider. The job title may have the word ‘clown’ in it, but when I’m working, I’m not there to tell jokes,” Hussmann said.
Rodeo clowns expose themselves to serious bodily injury to protect the riders. As a defense mechanism, Hussman wears bright, loose-fitting clothes that are designed to create a sense of motion. “Contrary to what most people believe, bulls cannot see the color red, they zero in on your movement,” Hussmann added.
While bull riding traces its roots as far back as the 16th century on the haciendas of old Mexico when ranch vs. ranch contests sprang up, it didn’t catch on in the U.S. until 1936 with the creation of the Cowboy’s Turtle Association, a governing body created to start regulating the sport. This new organization worked diligently to increase the popularity of rodeo, and in turn, bull riding. Today, the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (PRCA) is the largest American rodeo organization in the world.
Hussman says that he wishes he could alter the public’s perception of how the animals in rodeos are treated.
“I spend considerable time informing people how well these animals are treated. There are strict rules in place for their care, and most riders I know treat their bulls like family,” Hussmann added.
Like many people, Hussmann’s career has certainly had its share of hard knocks: multiple concussions, broken legs, and arms, separated shoulders and hundreds of cuts, bumps, and bruises during his career. As challenging as those setbacks were, he persevered. He stayed focused and despite all the obstacles, never gave up. Due to his tenacious nature, he was able to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“One of my goals was to fight bulls in Las Vegas where the nationals are held every year. It was such a cool feeling to roll my gear bag through the South Point Casino on my way to compete at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) Bucking Stock Sale. I’ll never forget that as long as I live,” Hussmann said.
Phill knows that his window for fighting bulls is closing. He would like to fight bulls for another five years but knows that anything can happen and that those plans can change in an instant. He knows that he surpassed how long most riders compete professionally. Until that day comes, he’s going to stare down his inevitable retirement like the hundreds of bovines he’s fought over the years and hold on for as long as he can.
If you’d like to see Phill Hussmann protect fallen cowboys and others ride bulls, you can go to The Bull Blast & Western Heritage Festival that will debut on June 30 and July 1st at Willow Brook Farms at 557 Willowbrook Road in Northampton. The festival will feature bull riding, cowgirl’s barrel racing, team roping and rodeo clown entertainment along with food, beer and merchandise. www.willowbrookhorses.com for more information.
William Childs is a marketing and advertising professional. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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