Zach Cormier Photo
Acrobatics, running, and jumping are all included when three men try to control an aggressive fighting bull the evening of July 26 at the Mary Reimer Memorial Rodeo.
Freestyle bullfighting pits man against beast with a mission to engage the animal as much as possible. The goal is to maintain control of the bull while dancing with him.
“Some call it the most dangerous dance on earth,” said Travis James, owner of Gringo Fighting Bulls in Edson.
Gringo Fighting Bulls brings the bull to Hinton for the rodeo, while three guys from the Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting tour prepare for the face off.
At the end of their touring season, the top guys head off to Las Vegas for the world finals.
Just like in bull riding, there are 50 points to be awarded to the bull and 50 points awarded to the bullfighter, explained James.
“The animal is judged on his aggressiveness, the more aggressive it is, the more points he’ll score,” he said.
“The bullfighter is pretty similar, if he can maintain control and stay in front of that bull, he will score higher. If he gets run over, he gets docked a few points.”
James started fighting bulls eight years ago when he was just 18 years old. Three years ago he began Gringo Fighting Bulls in Edson, where he also hosted the bullarama, including Canada’s largest freestyle bullfighting competition.
“For me, I am an adrenaline junkie. I enjoy more cowboy protection. I enjoy saving the bull riders,” he said.
“I started getting into the freestyle bullfighting because it was an avenue to showcase my talent.”
James hopes that freestyle bullfighting will help him to get more jobs as a cowboy protection athlete. While saving a cowboy in Edson last year, he was knocked out after getting kicked in the face by the bull, but he says otherwise he hasn’t been seriously hurt from fighting bulls.
“Everybody has a different feeling when they do it. I enjoy it, maintaining control and making the bull do what I want him to do,” he said.
Alongside bullfighting, mini bronc riding is also a new event that will be held on Friday night.
For the event, kids aged six to 14 ride mini ponies as a way to prepare for a future in professional rodeo.
“It’s for contestants wanting to get into the saddle bronc and bareback riding. It’s early development for them so they can start younger and hopefully by the time they’re of age they have some good fundamentals and they can compete professionally,” said James.
Kids from all over Alberta will come to compete in this event with Rank Mini Pony from Edson, which is also owned by James.
James hopes bringing these events to Hinton will help grow the freestyle bullfighting world in the West Yellowhead.
“Hinton has lots of adrenaline junkies. Lots of guys that go dirt biking, quadding, and that kind of stuff. Hopefully we can tap into those guys and get some people that just want to see some wrecks,” he said.
Friday night events also includes locals in events like double barrels, poles, relay race and mutton bustin’. Saturday’s events include some of the best in bull riding, saddle bronc, roping, barrel racing and bareback, among others.