DUNCAN, Okla. – The measurement of greatness, oftentimes, is based on recognition.
For those who will be part of the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, it is identified from work performed over a long season. It culminates in a three-round championship that takes place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20-Saturday, Oct. 22, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan.
While the contestants qualified through the rigors of competition, Weston Rutkowski and Nathan Harp earned their spots in Duncan through hard work and that recognition of the top bull riders in the Oklahoma-Kansas-Nebraska region. They will be the bullfighters, assigned to the task of protecting cowboys during the three-night finale.
“It was a shock when I got the call that I was going to work it,” said Rutkowski, 27, of Haskell, Texas. “A guy measures his talent in the arena, so you want to be selected to any finals. It’s recognition that hard work is finally paying off for me. It’s especially a privilege to work the Prairie Circuit Finals, which is well known for having great bullfighters work it every year.”
This year marks the first time he has been selected to fight bulls at a ProRodeo finale, and he’ll be working alongside Harp, now selected to work the Duncan championship for the third time in four years.
“It’s a blessing to be picked by the bull riders to come back and work it,” said Harp, 26, of Tuttle, Okla. “I’m truly amazed, because Oklahoma is a hotbed for great bullfighters, from Cody Webster to Chuck Swisher to Evan Allard; the list goes on and on.”
Harp and Rutkowski will utilize their athletic ability to help keep everyone in the arena safe during bull riding. They are the cowboy lifesavers, and they take their posts seriously.
“The key to my job is making sure everybody walks out safely: the bull rider, the bull and me at the very end of it,” Rutkowski said. “As long as the bull rider can walk away and go to the next rodeo. If somebody’s got to take the shot, then that’s why we’re hired to be there.”
Ideally the bullfighters will use their voices and their bodies to distract bulls from fallen cowboys, then finesse themselves out of harm’s way and allow the bulls to leave the arena without anyone being hooked or stepped on in the process. Sometimes, though, they throw their bodies into the fray to make sure the bull riders are as safe as possible.
“If a guy’s under the bull, I’ve got to step in there and pull the bull away,” Harp said. “Weston and I have worked RodeoAustin (in Texas) together the last couple of years, and we have the same philosophy. I don’t have to wonder where he’s going to be. We just go out and fight bulls, and we click together doing it.”
That says a lot for the men who make a living look into the eyes of danger on a daily basis and live to tell about it.
“It’s always fun getting to fight bulls with one of your best friends,” Rutkowski said. “Working with guys like Harp, you know you have to step your game up. It brings your level of bullfighting to the highest level you can have.”