Rodeo Clown Gets His Kicks In Rough-and-tumble Ring Life

Spanish Sissies Have Nothing On This Bullfighter

May 15, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Don't be impressed with Spanish matadors, said Steve Jones. If they were real men, they'd put on the clown make-up, purple tights and baggy shorts and do some honest bullfighting.

"Those guys are cowards," said Jones, a 26-year-old Millersville man. "They would never comeout into a rodeo ring and do what I do. I would love to go to Spain and step into the arena and start dancing around the bull and do whatI do and see what they think about that."

What Jones does is rodeo bullfighting, a sport requiring nimble reflexes, quick feet and a suppressed instinct for self-preservation.

He's had his ear nearly torn off and lost the hearing in one ear, had his skull fractured by a bull and suffered several cracked ribs. His nose, broken when Jones went head-to-head with a bull, now lists to the left. One foot has been stomped and broken by a bull, and his collarbone was broken by a bull's horn as Jones lay pinned inside a prop called a "clown barrel."

The thrill of the game is fresh as ever, though. He said just put

ting on the make-up and the costume to pose for newspaper photographs unleashes butterflies in his stomach.

Jones will be performing with about 200 bull riders, bronco riders, steer ropers and wrestlers at the county fairgrounds in Crownsville in a rodeo May 18 and 19. Jones, who manages an area service station, lined up the sponsors and organized the rodeo, which he believes will be the county's first in 15 years.

Jones will do two performances that weekend as he launches into a five-month stint of weekly rodeos that will carry him through at least eight states. That's about 20 weekends of dancing and fighting with bulls, which usually weigh between 1,650 and 2,200 pounds.

As Jones explained it, the rodeo bullfighter plays a dual role in the arena. When the bull charges out of the chute with a cowboy on his back, the bullfighter's job is to keep the bull stirred up, make sure he bucks and spins. When the cowboyis thrown off, the bullfighter's job is to distract the bull to protect the cowboy.

"If you've got a cowboy flat on his back" in the arena, "you'regoing to have to have the nerve to get in between" the man and the bull, Jones said. "If you have to take a hit, you take a hit. That's what you're getting paid for."

He also does what they call "free-style" bullfighting, a game of tag in which he taunts the bull and tries to stay a step ahead of the charging horns.

This is bullfighting, said Jones, not that wimpy stuff matadors do.

"I work with fresh bulls," said Jones. Most of them, he said, are "good, honest bulls" that won't turn on you out of viciousness.

"I got the greatest respect in the world for bulls," said Jones.

He learned that at great pain and injury. The worst of it was the rodeo in Greenville, Texas, in the summer of 1988. That's when Jones had his right ear nearly torn off and his skull cracked. The bull had bucked the cowboy off, but the cowboy's hand became stuck in the rope tied around the bull. Jones leaped onto the bull, trying to help free the rider's hand.

"I got the cowboy's hand free," Jones said. "He got out of there."

Jones didn't. The bull picked Jones up on its head and slammed him against a steel pipe fence, tearing his right ear. He drove himself to Greenville Hospital, where he was told his skull was fractured.

"The doctor said, 'You got air on the brain,' " Jones recalled. "I said,'I know. That's why I rodeo.' "

He was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Dallas, where he remained for a week. Four weekslater, he was back in the arena, minus the hearing in his right ear.

Jones' western drawl -- perhaps a vestige from the two years he spent in Oklahoma -- belies his roots, which are strictly Millersville. He grew up a long lasso toss from where he lives now, on a farm where his father raised horses and cattle. There began his interest in horses, which drew him to the rodeo arena.

He rode his first bull nine years ago in Pennsylvania, was bucked off, and sometime later decided to switch from bull riding to bull fighting, where the money is guaranteed. In bullfighting, you get paid by the show. Bull riders and cowboys who participate in other rodeo events compete for prize money.

"If you travel a bunch, you can make money," said Jones. "But you got to stay on the road."

It's a young man's game, hesaid. Most bull and bronco riders are in their late teens and early 20s, and usually quit before their 30th birthday. Jones, who will be 27 in July, said his specialty offers a bit more longevity.

"I'm going to goas long as my health will take me," he said. "It gets in your blood.You just got to keep going."

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