KILLDEER, N.D. – Tate Rhoads has a varied lifestyle, and all of it involves rodeo.
Growing up in the sport, he was a roper. When he was 14, Rhoads took up bullfighting, where he showed his true athleticism and daring in a war with 1,600 pounds of swirling aggression. Whether it was a freestyle bullfighting competition or cowboy protection during bull riding, he took to it well.
He returns to the Wild Rides Rodeo Killdeer – set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2-Friday, Sept. 3, at the Killdeer Rodeo Grounds – in a different capacity. It’s a step up, in fact, and it’s quite a funny story; at least, he hopes it’s funny.
Rhoads will be the clown/entertainer for this year’s event, and he brings years of experience and understanding of the sport to the arena, even though he’s only 24 years old.
“There’s not a much better feeling than when you’ve got 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 people in the stands, you’re the center of attention and people are having a good time because you’re interacting with them,” said Rhoads, who is in his third year as a rodeo clown from Big Horn, Montana. “When you get done with the rodeo and all those little kids are coming up to you and wanting autographed pictures, that’s what makes it cool for me.”
It’s cool for the crowd, too. That’s the job of a rodeo entertainer, and he’s obviously a fast-learner.
“In 2019 before I got my (PRCA) card, I went to the Cody (Wyoming) Night Rodeo and worked for Maury Tate,” he said of the rodeo’s producer and owner of Mo Betta Rodeo Co. “I worked 45 performances in a row. At the end of that summer, I got my card and started booking a bunch of ProRodeos, and it started taking up my whole year.”
Still, he’ll fill in his schedule as a bullfighter from time to time, but his days in the freestyle competitions have come to an end. He’d prefer to work rodeos, being one of the men that uses his skills and bull savvy to keep everyone else in the arena out of harm’s way.
But clowning seems to be a natural fit. He was a class clown in school, and it has progressed into a profession.
“I never wanted to be a rodeo clown,” Rhoads said. “I always wanted to be a bullfighter. When the opportunities came up, I decided to run with it, and here we are now.”
He’s had a lot of help along the way. Of course, Maury Tate provided Rhoads the start in Cody, but some of the best men in in the game have offered Rhoads advice.
“I’ve got a lot of guys like Justin Rumford,” Rhoads said of the nine-time winner of the PRCA’s Clown of the Year. “I wouldn’t be clowning if it wasn’t for Maury Tate and Mo Betta Rodeo. Justin was a big influence on me getting my pro card. John Harrison has helped me a bunch. Dennis Halstead sat down with me and gave me a page full of jokes, and he’s helped me with some of my acts.
“I got to work in front of Flint Rasmussen a couple of times, and he’ll call me and give me some pointers. I don’t know that there will be another clown that will do what Flint has done. Just the style of comedy he brought to the arena is second to none.”
For the past several years, Rhoads has worked the Killdeer rodeo as a bullfighter, and he’s excited to be able to bring his comedy and entertainment skills back to the community.
“It’s refreshing to see a good, young clown who can entertain a crowd,” said Alicia Fettig, owner of Fettig Pro Rodeo, which is producing the event. “The top clowns in rodeo are getting a little older, and they have earned their time in the spotlight, but it’s important that we see the younger generation of clowns come along. Tate is one of those guys.”
The unseen aspect of Rhoads’ position during the rodeo is to keep the production moving. When there’s a transition or when time allows, he will step in and provide some comedy relief. He adds a terrific bolt of energy to an already entertaining show.
“Alicia’s got some good, National Finals Rodeo bucking horses, and she’s got a bull guy coming that’s got a great set of bucking bulls,” Rhoads said of Fettig. “Every year that I’ve gone, we’ve had NFR contestants. She’s made it to where it can be a quick stop on their way through to another rodeo.”
“It’s an all-around great rodeo.”