For 43-year-old Scott Bryne, if everyone walks away safe, it’s been a good night.
As a bullfighter for the past 20 years, Bryne is sometimes the last line of defence between the riders and a couple thousand pounds of raging power that could still be bucking its heavy hooves or looking to strike with the crown of its head and horns.
But that is where Byrne and the other bullfighters come in, looking to distract the bull away from the cowboy so that he can get to safety and then help get them back through the gate so the next round can begin.
It’s a tough profession, one that sees the fighter in harms way for every bull that comes out of chute. And if Bryne lets his guard down even a little bit, someone, including himself, could be seriously injured.
“You have to be doing your job 110 per cent all the time,” said Bryne. “If you let your guard down any little bit, that is when they will run you over and that is when bull riders will get hurt. In turn, we don’t get hired for any more rodeos if they are getting hurt all the time.”
The Brandon, Man. native comes from a family of bullfighters. He started out riding bulls, but accepted he wasn’t very good at the riding part, so he followed the family tradition of keeping the cowboys safe. It was a way to stay in the sport for Bryne, so he attend a bull fighting school and learned the tricks of the trade.
With no playbook on any bull, Bryne said that what it comes down to is reading the play and reacting to what the stock is doing. Some bulls like to turn and buck a certain direction, but a bullfighter can’t rely on what a bull has done in the past to predict what he will do when the cowboy is on the floor. It strictly comes down to reaction.
“The basics is reading the play, reading the bulls, reading the cowboys as they come off, knowing where they are going to land so you know where you have to put yourself to be between the bull and the cowboy,” said Byrne.
“That is what we are paid for. We are paid to get hit for those cowboys so they can be healthy and go on to the next day and ride healthy. We always have to be on our guard and be able to change it up with them in order to put ourselves in the right position.”
See “Bullfighter,” Page 29
Being a bullfighter requires good athleticism, but it also requires the right mind that is able to take in a lot of information quickly and make the right judgement call to pick a bull of a cowboy. Byrne teaches his students at his bull fighting in Vermilion that it is 85 to 90 per cent mental. A fighter doesn’t take a ride off and is out there for up to 50 rides a night at any given event. With no time off, a sharp mind goes a long way to keeping everybody safe.
“Yes you have to be in shape, yes you have to be agile, but I always say your mind is a good, terrible thing,” said Byrne. “It can be good and in your favour or it can be against you. You have to be mentally prepared all the time.”
There is no leaderboard for bullfighters and no championship at the end of the year. What it all comes down to is reputation and how they are perceived by their fellow cowboys. The fighters are paid to keep the cowboys safe, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t competition within themselves. At the end of the day, it’s about making a living as a bullfighter and Bryne said, there is always someone there waiting to take your job if you are not willing to go, or able, if the case may be.
“I’ve had my share of Broken bones, ribs and face and torn knees,” said Byrne. “If you are not willing to do that, you are in the wrong sport. We are paid as professionals to get our there and work, we are also professionals in a sense that if we get hurt, it is our job to heal up, get back to work, because without us doing it, we don’t paid. And there is always guys after your job.”
Bryne has been to some of the biggest rodeos, including over 14 years at the Calgary Stampede. He will be heading back to Calgary again this year and says he always looks forward to the big shows, including Wainwright’s show, as well as the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton, and the Professional Bull Riders finals in Saskatoon.
For the PBR finals the cowboys themselves vote for the three bullfighters they want, while at the CRF they vote for the two guys they want. It all comes down to reputation and that is what Byrne strives for every year.
“Behind the chutes there is 150 critics looking at you doing your job,” said Bryne. “You always want to be at 110 per cent, because our ultimate goal is to always be at those finals and put that buckle on and make that nice big cheque at the end. That’s just like the Stanley Cup for us.”
As far as his own end, Bryne doesn’t know just yet how much longer he will continue to fight the bulls and keep cowboys safe. Physically, he can still do the job, but said he wants to end his career while he is on top and considering one of the best bullfighters in the sport.
“I’m going to end in this sport on my terms, not let the sport end it on its terms.”