Bullfighters are a cowboy’s best friend

<p>Bullfighter Donnie Griggs rushes in to help bullrider Dylan Hice of Escalon, Calif., escape from the wrath of Night Moves in the short go of the PBR event in September in Pendleton. Griggs resides in Hermiston and will work at the FCPR this year.</p>

Most rodeo aficionados know that rodeo bullfighters have little in common with the toreros of  Spanish bullfighting.

For one thing, rodeo bullfighters never, ever wear a torero outfit, which appear to the untrained eye as if they are painted on.

Rodeo bullfighters also don’t carry weapons, and never kill the animal in the ring. Instead, their job is primarily one of protection.

“You can tell when they’re doing a good job,” said David Bothum, Farm City Pro Rodeo board member. “You don’t really notice them.”

Far from flashy, rodeo bull fighters let the cowboys and the rodeo clowns hog the spotlight. On a given rodeo weekend a bullfighter might have to work 120 rides or more; they don’t have time for theatrics.

Donnie Griggs, a 36-year-old bullfighter from Hermiston, said last year he worked 27 rodeos, mainly in the Columbia River ProRodeo Circuit. That’s nearly 3,000 go-arounds with bulls each year.

This year will Griggs will again pair up with Jesse Tennant for the FCPR.

“Him and I have worked hundreds of rodeos together,” Griggs said. “This is my fourth year in Hermiston.”

Bothum added the pair are well respected by bullriders in the Columbia River Circuit.

“They’ve both been to the circuit finals and fought the bulls,” Bothum said.

Griggs said he began riding steers, then bulls in rodeos before deciding to try bullfighting in his 20’s. He quickly worked his way into the pro ranks, a feat that is much like getting drafted by a top  professional sports team.

“It’s pretty tough,” Griggs said. “You’ve got to be scouted.”

Then, in order to get a pro card, according to Griggs, you have to have stock contractors, other bullfighters and bullriders vouch for you.

“They take it pretty serious,” Griggs said.

No wonder, considering a good bullfighter not only protects the bull riders when they get bucked off, but tries to prevent problems before they happen.

“You can’t really predict things,” Griggs said. “You try to stop the wreck before it happens.”

That means turning a bull to help a cowboy dismount, or distracting a bull at the right moment. In addition to preventing the wrecks, Griggs said bullfighters try to help both the bulls and their riders get the best scores they can.

To do that, Griggs said the bullfighters get to know the stock contractors and the riders, and work to turn the bulls, keep their interest or just back off and let the animals work.

“The contractors usually looks at us and gives us a heads up,” said Griggs in reference to especially mean bulls.

Griggs added that he might go through 10 rodeos without a serious problem, and then “all of a sudden you go to one,” that is wreck after wreck.

“I think it depends on the moon,” Griggs joked. “You know it’s coming.”

Despite the risks, Griggs compared bullfighting to other professional sports.

“You take hits and you keep going,” Griggs said.

Griggs added those hits are not particularly popular with his wife, though considering she grew up around rodeos and they met at one he was working, she’s gotten used to his job.

“She goes to all of them with me usually,” Griggs said, pointing out life as a bullfighter is a little less hectic than a rodeo cowboy – outside the ring anyway.

“Take the family and do fun stuff,” said Griggs of his on-the-road philosophy.

As to when he might throw in the towel?

“‘Til my body tells me I shouldn’t do it anymore,” Griggs said. “If I slow down, hopefully my friends will tell me, and I’ll quit.”

In the meantime, Griggs said he still hopes to get to the big stage at the National Finals Rodeo.

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