SAN ANTONIO – The bull riders aren’t the only stars of the show during the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo’s last performance. The crowd went wild for an eight-second ride, but the applause was also for the cowboys protecting the rider.
In the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo, a bullfighter is the athlete getting the bull’s attention to prevent it from hurting the bull riders after they get bucked off or dismount the bulls.
Chuck Swisher and Cody Webster are the official San Antonio Rodeo PRCA Bullfighters. Their skills are showcased throughout more than 22 performances in San Antonio alongside the rodeo clown.
“We’ve got a good team here to fight bulls, and we’ve got Justin Rumford in the barrel,” Webster said. “(Rumford is) as entertaining in the locker room as he is out in the arena.”
Webster is a World Champion Bull Fighter. He was also voted 2021 and 2020 PRCA Bullfighter of the Year, is a nine-time NFR Bull Fighter, and is a seven-time PBR World Finals champion.
“This is the very best stock in the world, the very best cowboys in the business,” Webster said. “So to be able to have your name stapled to something like this really almost solidifies that you’re legit enough to be able to go on down the road and go to the finals.”
Swisher, a 2014 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bullfighter, started fighting bulls at 15 years old in Oklahoma.
“I kind of grew up riding a bicycle on a skateboard, thought I was the next Tony Hawk,” Swisher said. “Then (at) about 14, 15 years old, I was like, I’m going to be a cowboy like my dad.”
At first, he saw a future as a bull rider.
“(My parents) actually bought me all the gear to ride bulls, and when it came down to it, I was way too scared to ever get on one. So I thought maybe it wouldn’t be as scary getting in front of them.”
His parents took him to bullfighting school at 15 years old, and the rest is history.
“Here I am now, 16 years later,” Swisher said. “We love what we do. It’s such an awesome job. It’s obviously dangerous, but there is so much fun that’s had while you do it.”
Webster’s start in the rodeo scene, which his family also inspired, began at an even younger age.
“From the time I was a little bitty baby, you know, I was running to the house and trying to paint my face with mom’s lipstick and then wearing baggy clothes,” Webster said. “We grew up rodeo-ing, and, like, my mom ran barrels, my aunt ran barrels. My dad rode a few bulls. It has just always been in me and something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Now, they are some of the top bullfighters in the pro rodeo scene, and they take their job of protecting the bull rider very seriously.
“Teamwork is definitely where, you know, the difference is made, because no matter how good a bullfighter is, if he’s on his own and that bull gets zoned in, four legs outrun two legs all day,” Webster said. “It’s something that is extremely important.”
It’s a job that takes skill, focus and confidence.
“It’s just knowing cattle, being able to see how the bull is moving,” Swisher said. “You really can’t tell what the bulls are going to do, but you kind of have somewhat of a game plan to try and beat him to his next step. You have to be on your toes every step of the way and be ready for anything crazy to happen.”
Bullfighters rush in to save a bull rider, resulting in broken bones and serious injuries sometimes.
“As dangerous as fighting bulls is, tonight could be my last night,” Swisher said.
It’s the passion that keeps them coming back to the dirt.
“If you don’t love this, it’s not worth it because there’s a lot of days that it’s not a lot of fun,” Webster said. “There’s days that you got to have help to get out of bed, you know, but somehow through the day, you find the will. Maybe we’re all just that hard-headed, but you show up and go to work.”
A check is never guaranteed for rodeo athletes, which is why they must stay healthy and find other avenues to bring in cash.
“Growing up in the business and starting at such a young age, that was kind of my biggest goal,” Webster said. “I wanted to be able to get someone to give me the opportunity to put their company or their logo on me, and then be able to travel the country. If we don’t work, we don’t get paid.”
The expenses to be able to participate in rodeos add up quickly.
“We have to pay our way here. We have to pay our animals’ bills and everything that goes into the sport,” Webster said. “That endorsement money is a big deal for us.”
Back at home, many rodeo participants have family members helping run businesses as their primary source of income.
“We actually have a beef business back home that we’re running,” Swisher said. “We have some real estate properties that we’re renting out and then a couple of other little side deals.”
Swisher has help from his wife and family to keep their businesses open. The support allows him to travel the nation to live out his dream and career.
“My hopes for the younger generation is to see how hard cowboys and cowgirls work,” Swisher said. “You know, we don’t get to just have an eight-hour job. Our job is driving all night (and) getting to the next rodeo.”
Swisher and Webster will once again get to work on the dirt at the AT&T Center for round one of the San Antonio Rodeo Semifinals on Thursday evening.
“Stepping into the arena here at San Antonio, you know, and getting to be in front of 16,000 people just about every night, is really something that’s hard to put in words,” Swisher said. “It’s just wheelin’ our chair up to the office desk and going to work.”
The rodeo runs through Sunday, Feb. 27. Tickets are still on sale.
Remaining 2022 San Antonio Rodeo Entertainment Lineup
- Brett Young: 7 p.m., Thursday, February 24
- STYX: 7 p.m., Friday, February 25
- Jimmie Allen: 1 p.m., Saturday, February 26
- Ryan Bingham: 7 p.m., Saturday, February 26 (following Rodeo Finals)