Safety in the ring: Bullfighting at rodeos
Putting yourself in the way of a charging bull might not make sense to some, but for Darryl Chong, it’s just part of his job protecting the bull riders who compete at rodeos.
“Rodeo protection athletes are basically bodyguards,” he said, speaking to ProChoice Safety Gear.
“Our job is to distract the bull after the rider is dismounted or jumps off, so they can get away safely. If they’ve landed in a bad position, we stand between them and the bull, putting our body on the line.”
With some of the bulls weighing in at over 1000 kilos, the potential for things to go wrong is high, particularly when personal protective equipment (PPE) is minimal.
“I wear a little vest with a hard plastic chest plate and velcro clips so if the bull horns get under, it’ll rip off. And ice hockey pads underneath my shorts and a pair of footy boots,” he said.
While the bull riders’ vest has more padding, Darryl said that it wouldn’t work for their role, highlighting the importance of choosing PPE fit for the job.
“Theirs is thicker, but you don’t get as much mobility and can’t put your body in different spots. Ours is easier to run around in and a lot lighter too.”
Just as in the workplace, PPE is a last line of defence and other safety measures are more effective in reducing risk.
For Darryl, mentally controlling his fear is the most important thing in the ring.
“Our role is to try to outsmart the bull. You have to keep calm and don’t let the bull play mind games with you,” he explained.
In his 15-year career as a rodeo protection athlete, Darryl has built up his mental stamina and gained plenty of experience outsmarting bulls, increasing his ability to make safe decisions.
“When I first started, I pretty much videoed all of the bull rides and studied everything. I’d sit up the night before big shows and plan what to do.”
“It took a lot of energy out of me at the start of my career. Now I don’t even think about it. After so many years of experience, it’s a natural thing and I can jump in the ring anytime.”
Having your teammates back:
Rodeo protection athletes usually work in teams of two or three, and backing one another up is vital, especially as common ways to outsmart a bull include putting weight on its head when it charges low, or holding the bull’s horns in order to swing out of its way.
“I put my faith in the other two guys. We have a good bond and know how each other works. If one of us is going to take a hit, the others back him up,” explained Darryl.
“As long as we’re laughing, joking and having fun out there, we just go with the flow. It’s all quick instinct, adjusting to what the bull’s doing and being aware of where your partners are.”
Physical fitness and hydration:
Keeping physically fit and hydrated are also important safety measures for Darryl and his mates, who might spend more than 12 hours a day working in the heat at big rodeos.
“I do a lot of cardio outside of rodeos to keep my fitness levels up. And before the ride, I warm up and stretch to prevent injuries,” he said.
“And you have to keep your fluids up. I’ve been to some really hot places where no matter how much water you drink, your body starts cramping.”
“The THORZT guys really saved our lives at the Mount Isa Rodeo this year (2018). Their electrolyte Icy Poles got us through the weekend. You can definitely feel the difference.”
So why does Darryl keep doing such a demanding sport?
“It’s just the adrenaline. And I love the fact you’re putting your body on the line to save someone else. It used to be always about the bull riders, but now this job is getting a bit more recognition too.”