Whether it is after a successful 8-second ride or in the midst of a twisting turn just out of the gate, bull riders have to find their way to the ground and to safety. The riders don’t face this challenge alone. A brave and athletic group of professionals known as bullfighters and barrel men are essential to the riders’ escape.
Though a barrel man’s attire is similar to that of a bullfighter, his presence in the arena serves a much different purpose. A barrel man’s duty is to entertain the crowd during the “down time” that is inherent to the sport of bull riding. When bulls are being loaded or the show is on hold due to unexpected breaks, a barrel man takes over and amuses spectators with impromptu routines or comical dialogues with the event’s announcers. The barrel man can often be found hanging around or in a custom-made barrel placed in the center of the arena. The barrel not only protects the barrel man from a charging bull, but also provides bull riders with an island of safety if he is bucked off far from the arena fence or bucking chutes.
While they may look like funny-faced clowns in bright tights and baggy shorts, their job is no laughing matter. The mission of every bullfighter and barrel man is to divert the bull’s attention away from the exiting rider by whatever means possible.
Working from an open-ended barrel, the barrel man serves as a diversion for an angry bull. It may look like the best seat for close up action, but the barrel with the barrel man inside often ends up in the path of an incoming bull – pushed there by the bullfighter in an effort to provide escape time for a downed or injured rider.
These skilled athletes not only risk their lives to save riders, but the bullfighters and barrel men are an exciting and entertaining part of all rodeo performances. (information courtesy of 101 Wild West Rodeo).