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Facing a bucking bull is not for the faint of heart

By: Allison Chorney

  |  Posted: Thursday, Jul 03, 2014 02:38 pm

Four-time Canadian Professional Rodeo Association Entertainer of the YearDennis Halstead entertaining the crowd during the Airdrie Pro Rodeo on June 28. Halstead, along with bull fighters Bo Byrne and Scott Waye, have the task of keeping riders safe by encouraging the bull to come at them instead of the rider.
Four-time Canadian Professional Rodeo Association Entertainer of the YearDennis Halstead entertaining the crowd during the Airdrie Pro Rodeo on June 28. Halstead, along with bull fighters Bo Byrne and Scott Waye, have the task of keeping riders safe by encouraging the bull to come at them instead of the rider.
Lucas Punkari/Rocky View Publishing

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Not many people would do what Dennis Halstead, Bo Byrne and Scott Waye do for a living. The three men spend their workdays facing off against bulls as they keep riders safe by enticing the animals away from the riders.

Airdrie was lucky enough to have them keeping riders safe during this year’s Airdrie Pro Rodeo which ran from June 27 to July 1.

“My job is working the barrel and the barrel is also an island of safety,” said Halstead, a barrel man (or rodeo clown) and four-time Canadian Professional Rodeo Association Entertainer of the Year.

Halstead said he tries to get the bull to charge at him and then tucks into his barrel to take the hit.

The job has some risks and Halstead has lost teeth along with broken bones and bruises from the bulls getting their heads or feet stuck in the barrel.

“That’s the nature of the game,” he said.

“That’s the risk you take.”

He said he is often asked what it’s like to be in that barrel when a bull charges and describes it as, “like being thrown in a dryer, turning on the dryer and then throwing it down the stairs.”

Halstead said the secret is to stay tight in the barrel because as soon as you loosen up “you’ll be in trouble.”

“These animals are incredibly powerful,” he said, adding the G-force from a bull hit can be 25 to 30 mile per hour.

But dodging bulls is just one part of his job as he also provides the entertainment and keeps the crowd engaged.

“I have probably 20 different acts,” he said.

“I like to do a different act every day.”

He said his acts include live rabbits, pyrotechnics and a lot of good timing.

“You never know with acts. If the (pyrotechnic) stuff gets wet, or whatever, it doesn’t work and it’s kind of funny because the crowd knows something didn’t work and you have to improvise,” he said.

He noted that often times he has to come up with ways to cover a delay in the action; something that happened on June 28 at the Airdrie Pro Rodeo.

“For 10 minutes I basically had to be a stand up comedian,” he said.

Though Byrne and Waye leave the comedy up to Halstead, they too have an important and dangerous role in the rodeo.

“We’re there for cowboy protection,” Byrne said.

“When the bull rider gets off, it’s our job to give him extra time to get to his feet and get to a safe place.”

He said to do what they do, you have to be in good physical shape, have good timing and an understanding of livestock to be able to read what the animals are likely to do.

“You get to know most of the (riders) throughout the year and get to know their habits and if they will ride until they get knocked off or if they’ll get off on their own,” he said.

“And you get to know the bulls too. You get to know the mean ones really quickly.”

He said before he gets in the arena he likes to visualize how it will go to get him in the right frame of mind.

“After the first bull bucks it gets your heart going,” he said.

However, Waye said facing down a bull isn’t the biggest challenge with the job. He said that challenge is always being at the top of your game no matter what.

“You’ve got to hang it all out there every single day,” he said. “If a bull rider is having a bad day he gets bucked off. If I have a bad day a bull rider gets hooked.”

He said the riders and his co-workers make it worth it though.

“It is a community for sure,” Waye said.

“We may only fight three rodeos a year but when we see each other we hang out every day.”


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