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A rodeo clown's job can be quite dangerous – here is rodeo clown Eddie Phillips being gored by a bull.
Flint Rasmussen, a famous rodeo clown
A rodeo clown assisting a junior calf rider.

A rodeo clown, also known as a bullfighter or rodeo protection athlete, is a rodeo performer who works in bull riding competitions. The primary job of the rodeo clown is to protect a fallen rider from the bull, whether the rider has been bucked off or has jumped off of the animal. The rodeo clown distracts the bull and provides an alternative target for the bull to attack. The clowns expose themselves to great danger in order to protect the cowboy. To this end, they wear bright, loose-fitting clothes that are designed to tear away, with protective gear fitted underneath. [1] Staying true to the earlier name of the job, rodeo clowns often wear clown makeup and some may also provide traditional clowning entertainment for the crowd between rodeo events, often parodying aspects of cowboy culture.

Rodeo clowns were a part of rodeos and agricultural shows for many years. They were hired to entertain the spectators between events and to help manage the bullocks, steers or bulls in the arena.[2] In the 1930s, with the introduction of aggressive Brahman bulls and Brahman crossbreds, the job became much more serious.[1] In the late 20th century, acknowledging the great danger faced by the profession, the term "bullfighter" began to replace the name "rodeo clown" in formal use.

Rodeo clowns require speed, agility and ability to predetermine a bull's next move when possible.[1] The job is very dangerous because the regular exposure to large, athletic bulls, exposes a rodeo clown to a range of potential injuries from the bulls. As a result, injuries are common and can be fatal.

The rodeo clowns enter the rodeo arena on foot, before the bull is released from the bucking chute. They stand on either side of the chute as the bull is released and work as a team to distract the bull and thus protect the rider and each other.[1] Their role is particularly important when a rider has been injured, in which case the rodeo clown interposes himself between the bull and the rider, or uses techniques such as running off at an angle, throwing a hat, or shouting, so that the injured rider can exit the ring. When a rider has been hung up, they face the extremely dangerous task of trying to free the rider, with one team member going to the bull's head and the other attempting to release the rider.[1]

Typically, rodeo clowns work in groups of two or three, with two free-roaming rodeo clown and sometimes a third, often more clownish-behaving team member, who is known as the barrel man. The barrel man uses a large padded barrel that he can jump in and out of easily, and the barrel helps to protect the rodeo clown from the bull. In Australia, rodeo clowns generally do not use barrels.

When not working to protect bull riders, rodeo clowns also have their own competitions.[3] Bulls are turned into the arena and the clown works with the animal, evaluated based upon the aptitude he displays in controlling and maneuvering the bull, precision in jumping the bull, contact with the bull, and handling of the barrel.[4] Similar skills are sometimes displayed at traditional rodeos in intermission acts.[1]

Well-known rodeo clowns include Flint Rasmussen, Quail Dobbs, Johnny Tatum, Jimmy Anderson, Rudy Burns, Miles Hare, Cajun Kidd, Buck LeGrand, Rob Smets, Leon Coffee, Duane Hargo, movie actor Slim Pickens and Australians Matt Darmody, Shane 'Maddog' Simpson and Nathan Marshall.

Schools exist to provide training for potential rodeo clowns.[1] The profession gained major notoriety in the film Shakes the Clown.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Groves, Melody; "Ropes, Reins and Rawhide", University of New Mexico Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8263-3822-4
  2. ^ Hicks Jenny, “Australian Cowboys, Roughriders & Rodeos”, CQU Press, Rockhampton, QLD, 2000
  3. ^ Professional Bullfighters
  4. ^ "The First Dickies National Championship Bullfighting Qualifier Kicks Off In Cheyenne" PBR web site, accessed August 1, 2009
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