In the Line of Fire

Photo by matt cohen / cowboy journal

Photo by matt cohen / cowboy journal

One bull, two perspectives

Clayton Foltyn and Chance Jackson break it down.


CLAYTON (bull rider): The bull (in the photo above) has me lined out. He’s planning to hook me. That’s his job—to sell tickets.

This was 2016, at Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo in San Juan Capistrano, California. It’s a big two-day rodeo, but it’s a crapshoot for the bull riders. The bulls out there are uneven.

I drew a bad bull. You want your bull to turn back beside the chutes and start kicking and bucking. If they’re not turning back and spinning in one jump, they’re not that good. If they go two or three jumps, it’s all right. The bull I drew took six or seven jumps out to the middle of the arena. He should’ve had to buy a ticket to be at that rodeo.

It’s my job to keep riding and maybe get a re-ride. But he was an old, smart rodeo bull. He was ducking and diving, trying to loosen me up. He wasn’t really trying to buck me off. He was trying to crap me off. After five or six seconds, my leg popped loose, and he jerked back toward the chutes. He dropped me thirty yards from the fences.

CHANCE (bullfighter): I remember that bull, because he didn’t buck. He just took some big, long jumps out to the middle of the pen.

As he’s jumping away from the chutes, I’m cold-trailing him. I don’t want him to turn back and buck Clayton off at the whistle. So I’m hanging back with my cowboy protection partner, Louie Jones. We figure Clayton will cover and then get a re-ride.

All of a sudden, the bull turns back and drops Clayton. I’m not expecting it and am too far from the action. I think, You’d better get to moving.

If the bull threw him back toward the chutes, we’d have more time. But he tossed him out toward the middle. I’m thinking, If that bull gets his head down and swoops Clayton up before I get there, I’m behind him instead of in front. If that happens, the bull will keep dragging Clayton out to the middle.

Photo by Matt Cohen

Photo by Matt Cohen

CLAYTON: The bullfighter (above) comes out of nowhere. His name is Chance Jackson. He’s trying to take the attention off me and put it all on himself. Chance’s timing is pretty much perfect. He didn’t come too early and draw the bull while I was trying to make the whistle. Unfortunately, the bull turned back and dropped me anyway.

CHANCE: Me and Louie are awful late on this bull. I’m hustling to get out to the middle, where I can do something. Luckily, after bucking Clayton, the bull makes one more round. That gives me time to catch up. When the bull looks up, the first thing he sees is Clayton crawling out. That bull’s not too mean. He’s no headhunter, but he’ll darn sure hook you. The way his head is down, you can tell he’s about to hook Clayton.

Photo by Matt Cohen

Photo by Matt Cohen

CLAYTON: I’ve been riding bulls professionally for fifteen years. I’m thirty-three-years old. I’ve been hooked quite a few times, so many I can’t keep track. If you ride bulls, you’re going to get hooked. A good bullfighter don’t really get hooked a whole lot.

CHANCE: I ain’t super fast, but I need to make the bull pick his head up and slow him down. It’s pretty tight in there. I’m trying to pick my feet up so I don’t trip Clayton or myself. I want to get a hand on the bull, so he’ll pick up his head. When they pick their head up, it makes their feet hit the ground and slows them down.

Photo by Matt Cohen

Photo by Matt Cohen

CLAYTON: I need more time to get up and run than most people. I’m a little older, and I have bad hips—not as catty as I used to be. The safest place for me is on top of the bull.

CHANCE: Here, I’m shooting the gap. The bull’s head is down, like he’s gonna come hard. I’m gonna take the hit if anybody has to. I brace for it. This all happens in a split second. It’s instinct. Honestly, if you’re thinking about it, you’ll be late.

Photo by Matt Cohen

Photo by Matt Cohen

CLAYTON: After he shoots the gap and grabs the bull’s attention, Chance goes the opposite way from me. That’s ideal bullfighting right there. A lot of bullfighters—I won’t mention no names—go to the cowboy and stop. I’m not sure why. Maybe they want to get hooked and have the announcer call their name.

CHANCE: I make it through the gap without getting hooked. Now I slow down to make sure the bull stays focused on me. Clayton’s still out front. With a bull like this one, who’s not super hot, I need to make sure he’ll follow me instead of losing interest and running Clayton over.

Photo by Matt Cohen

Photo by Matt Cohen

CLAYTON: I’m on my feet, the bull’s aiming for the bullfighter, and I’m heading for the closest fence. I don’t turn around until I get there. This year, at Ft. Worth, I wasn’t putting forth all my effort to get to the fence. The bullfighters did their job, but I wasn’t doing my job. I thought the bull went the other way. Next thing I knew, he hooked me in my butt. That made me get to the fence a lot faster!

CHANCE: I’m trying to make myself look big. I throw my hands up and holler. I sometimes wear baggies and handkerchiefs, because them bulls are attracted to movement. It works. The bull picks me, giving Clayton time to get out of there.

I can’t remember the bull’s name. If he would’ve run me over, I’d remember his name.


The Take-Away

CLAYTON: I’m extremely grateful for cowboy protection bullfighters. Guys like Chance are everything to us. They know I respect them.

CHANCE: You ain’t gonna get rich bullfighting. It’s a way to serve others, I reckon. Them bull riders are a lot more vulnerable than we are. They’re always on their backs or trying to get up. We’re on our feet. I like to let them guys get down the road. That way they can feed their families.

I remember talking with Clayton in sports medicine before the ride. He said he needed to get home, because his wife was about to have a baby. That put things in perspective. Hell, anytime a bull rider gets to go home, it’s a good day for me.


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