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  • Paul Cooley


Updated: Mar 19, 2019

GERRY - The chute gate opens, an angry 2000 lb. bull lunges into the arena amid the shouts from the rodeo fans, spins and bucks wildly in an effort to throw the cowboy who is trying desperately to hang onto its back for the required eight seconds. One last leap tosses the cowboy into the air and he lands on the arena dirt, stunned and perhaps injured. The bull turns and heads for the fallen rider. Suddenly a figure in baggy clothes and clown make-up leaps between the bull and the downed cowboy, risking his own health and perhaps his life to protect the cowboy.

That’s what bullfighter Phil Hussmann does approximately 500 times a rodeo season - ten or more times every night that he works at a rodeo - and has been doing for the past 23 years. His daring feats in the arena have resulted in having both legs broken and steel rods inserted, torn ACL’s in both knees, a broken shoulder, every finger on both hands broken, along with multiple concussions.

Yet, Hussmann, at age 40, says he loves his job and has wanted to be a part of the rodeo scene since as a small child he had his photo taken with a rodeo clown. He says the rush of adrenaline that comes from putting himself in danger and thrilling the crowd is part of what keeps him returning to the rodeo arena. He also adds that being a part of the tightly-knit rodeo family is so special.

His start in rodeo came at age 13 when he began riding steers in junior rodeos. However, a serious shoulder injury when he was 17 ended his hopes of being a competitor in professional rodeo. He decided to try what is called “bull fighting”, which is a misnomer as the job is really to distract the bulls long enough to allow the cowboy to get to safety. He learned the trade by volunteering to work in the “practice pens’ where young cowboys are learning to ride bulls.

From there, his career has taken him around the nation, including being named as one of ten bull fighters to perform in Las Vegas at the NFR Bucking Stock Sale there. His skills have earned him the respect of the cowboys whom he protects, as for the fifth consecutive year, those cowboys voted him to work the First Frontier Circuit Finals Rodeo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This honor goes to only two cowboys from each of the twelve rodeo circuits in the country, putting his name in the top 24 bull fighters from the several hundred nationwide.

When asked about the baggy clothes and make-up, Hussmann explained that the clothes are to make the bull fighter look larger to trick the bulls, as they go after movement, giving the bull fighters a bit of a margin of safety from being hit by the bulls. As to the make-up, he says that is a throwback to the early days of rodeo when the bull fighter was also the clown. Most of today’s younger bull fighters do not wear the clown make-up, but Hussmann says he continues to wear it as tribute to those great performers from the history of rodeo.

Hussmann is a family man whose wife Stacey and sons, Jacob, 13, and AJ, 8, travel with him to all his rodeos. He says his sons have an interest in rodeo, but he hopes, if they choose that direction, that they will take up the roping events as he doesn’t want to see them put themselves through what he has experienced in spite of his love for his job. Presently, Hussmann is working on several comedy acts as he looks to the days when he has to give up bull fighting and has his sons working with him on those acts. When they are not on the road, the family makes their home in Northampton, Pennsylvania, where Hussmann works at Willow Brook Farms, a nationally known quarter horse farm where Hussmann’s father is the manager.

Hussmann says he hopes to fight bulls for another five years but says the bulls are getting bigger and stronger every year as stock contractors are breeding animals that have the bucking instinct born in. As a result, he works hard at being in good shape, including a proper diet and working out in the gym for two hours, six days a week. He says his wife is his inspiration as she works out with him every day.

The Hussmann family will return to Gerry for the sixth consecutive year, where Hussmann will thrill the fans with his skills in protecting cowboys for four nights, July 31 through August 3, at the 75th consecutive year of rodeo sponsored by the Gerry Volunteer Fire Department. He says their trip to Gerry Is one of their favorites as everyone is so friendly, and he is impressed with the strong involvement of the entire community. Additional information regarding the rodeo is available at the website or by phone at (716) 985-4847 or 1-800-985-4847.

📷 Bull fighter Phil Hussmann will be back in Gerry in August risking his life to protect fallen cowboys.

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