BELTON — Jason Gibbs and Scott Spencer began their rodeo days as bull riders, but both soon found a new calling and a new love: bullfighting.
“My older brother was riding bulls, so I had to do what big brother was doing and I started riding bulls, too. And now I’m fighting them,” said Spencer, a 36-year-old from Athens who has been involved with the rodeo scene for 19 years. “I enjoy it a lot more. The bull riders come out here and they get on one bull . . . and I’ve got 20 of them to play with.”
For Gibbs, a 38-year-old from Daingerfield, he got into bullfighting by chance after not finding a lot of success as a bull rider.
“I started out riding bulls and I did that probably three years and I wasn’t any good at it,” said Gibbs, who has been in rodeos for 15 years. “I got a chance to go to the practice pen with some friends and they needed a bullfighter and I got out there and did it and just fell in love with it.”
Gibbs’ passion has taken him to rodeos all over the country and this week he and Spencer will be working the Bell County PRCA Rodeo, which has nightly performances today, Friday and Saturday at Bell County Expo Center.
“When my season gets rolling, and it’s kicking off right now, I’ll stay pretty busy,” Gibbs said. “I get to travel around, see some neat places. The friends that you make and the neat places that you get to see, it’s just a blessing to be able to live your dreams. Any time you can go do what you love, then it’s not work, it’s fun and you’re doing pretty good.”
It’s the bullfighters’ job to protect the riders who get bucked off, getting the bull’s attention by any means necessary so the cowboy can exit the arena safely.
It’s a job Gibbs and Spencer take very seriously.
“We’re their bodyguards,” Gibbs said. “We’re the guys who protect them.”
While bullfighters do their best to prevent injury to the bull riders and to themselves, it is a dangerous sport. They’re dealing with animals that can weigh close to a 1,000 pounds and injuries do happen.
“There’s always injuries,” Spencer said. “That’s part of it. You’re going to get hurt. I’ve dislocated my hip, dislocated my shoulder, broken bones, stitches. We try not to think about it because we know it’s going to happen sooner or later. We just have to go out and do our job and not worry about injury.”
However Gibbs tries to focus on the positive.
“The saves and being able to help those cowboys get out of the arena safe so they don’t have to go to the hospital when it’s over with, that’s the fun of it,” he said. “I broke my jaw and had to have plates put in it. I’ve broken some ribs, and just things like that.
“Sometimes when it does go bad and a cowboy gets in a bad spot, it’s our job to try to prevent that to the best of our ability. That kind of stuff makes me want to strive to do a lot better and push myself harder.”
Both bullfighters plan to continue doing the job that they love for as long as they are able.
“I feel very blessed to do what I love doing,” Gibbs said. “As long as the good Lord keeps me healthy and keeps me going down that road, I’m going to have fun and try to be the best example I can be to whoever’s watching.”
“I’m going to keep doing it until it’s not fun anymore,” Spencer said, “or if I’m in the way out there. I still feel like I’m doing my job. If it gets to a point where I feel I’m not doing my job, I’ll quit.”