In the Gap
Meet the man who willingly enters the rodeo arena and, when the moment calls for it, steps directly into the path of a charging bull.
Gripping the bars of the chute, a bull rider lifts himself over the railing to rest a leg across the hulking back of a Brahma bull. Its eyes roll and it shoves its bulk heavily into the gate. The rider pauses as it settles. But, after a short moment and steadied by a chute attendant, the rider climbs aboard the ticking time-bomb.
Cinching a rope tightly over one hand - lifting the other into the air - he gives a clipped nod. It's time to go.
When the latch cracks and they surge out of the gate, the bull rider knows he's in for a wild 8-seconds. And, when you're strapped to 2000-pounds of muscle, a lot can happen in a very short amount of time.
But every bull rider also knows that they can trust more than just their speed and instincts to get them out of there, should things go south.
On the edges of the action, a pair of bullfighters track every movement of the bull and rider. They work in sync, following closely as they reposition themselves at every twist and turn of the bull. Preparing for the moment when the whistle blows or the rider hits the ground.
The bull riders know that they can depend on bullfighters, like Dusty Tuckness, to help them get out of the arena alive.
Though he still dons a few streaks of face paint, Dusty Tuckness has taken on a unique role in the modern-day rodeo. He, and the other bullfighters of today, are part of a new generation whose focus has shifted steadily away from the entertainment of the rodeo crowds.
When people think about bullfighters at a rodeo. They usually think the rodeo clown. Now, rodeo bullfighters are not clowns. They’re extremely athletic. They’re not funny.
Bullfighters are cowboy protection specialists."
Many people would think twice about putting themselves in the path of a charging bull and fewer would take it on as a career. However, for Dusty, bullfighting started as an early interest that steadily grew into a passion.
With parents that were already traveling the circuit, Dusty found himself surrounded by the action of the rodeo almost from birth. At just around 6 years old he rode his first steer and, at 12, he admitted to his parents that he had been sneaking out with a friend to fight bulls. Luckily, rather than putting a stop to the dangerous hobby, Dusty's parents decided to support it. In the perfect position to help, they taught him the ropes as he pursued bullfighting as a career.
Today, Dusty is one of the most decorated Bullfighters in the history of professional rodeo.
Dusty changed the sport. He came in and everybody thought he was just this crazy guy wantin’ to get hooked. And, literally, everything the guys are doing now. He started it.
Dusty knew his dream career wouldn't be a glamorous one. Traveling from one rodeo to the next, he's on the road 10 – 11 months out of the year. And, at any rodeo, it's not uncommon for him to walk away with multiple scrapes, bruises, and the occassional broken bone.
However, from his very first year, Dusty made a name for himself among bullfighters and bull riders alike. Throwing himself in front of bulls without hesitation, many saw the young man as too much of a risk-taker. However, today, most of the cowboys have come to know him as someone “who’s not afraid to take a hooking for anybody.”
It can be the meanest bull ever – I’d get on a grizzly bear if Dusty’s out there and still smile about it. ‘Cause I know he’s gonna jump in front of him and do whatever he can to save me.
Back in the rodeo arena, Dusty shifts deftly into the gap between bull and rider and, in a practiced maneuver, he slows. Reaching out he, literally, grabs the bull by the horn. An action many would think twice about before attempting but Dusty doesn't hesitate. The motion draws the bull’s eyes up and, whirling away, it turns to follow the new target. The rider scrambles to his feet, exiting the arena in one piece.
You’re reading the book in front of you before it really unfolds. Every jump that bull makes, you try to put yourself in position so that, when that whistle blows or that bull rider hits the ground, you can be there to take that bull away from ‘em.
And then, from there, we’re on to the next one. There’s not a better feeling in the world.