Sean Peterson drove from Summerville to participate in the 25th Baker City Bull Riding Blow Out Rodeo Saturday evening at the Fairgrounds.
Jesse Tennent drove from Springfield.
But neither is a bull rider.
And neither was competing for prize money.
Their job was to defend the riders from the tantrum of the bulls.
“We are no stars,” Tennent said. “We’re here just protecting the stars.”
According to Peterson, not just anyone can lock horns with a bull. Bullfighters can be licensed, and landing a job at a rodeo can be political — who you know. But bullfighting is also very technical. Every night he spends at least an hour reviewing tapes of his previous bull fights. Peterson watches a lot of tapes.
“I could nitpick every bull,” he said, “take an extra step here or grab the bull by the head there.”
He’s spent a decade fighting bulls. He works 30 events a year from high schools to colleges to Professional Bull Riders events. He’s been as far east as Los Fresnos, Texas, but most of his work is in the Pacific Northwest.
At 29, Peterson has never been carried out of the arena. When he started, he said bull fighting was all a blur. Now it’s mostly muscle memory.
Peterson started thinking about fighting bulls while in eighth-grade at Imbler. He grew up riding sheep, calves, and steers. He got on a couple of bulls but he figured he had a better chance in front of a bull than on top of one.
But it wasn’t until he was 19, and studying at Blue Mountain Community College, that he learned to fight bulls.
Peterson later went to a two-day bullfighting school. The first day of the school was all fundamentals and watching tapes. The second day was live practice. Peterson learned how to read situations, and understand that, for instance, if his partner is facing the bull’s horns then Peterson should be on the tail end trying to get the bull to turn around.
His teacher was Tennent.
“He was a guy I always looked up to,” Peterson said.
Tennent was born to fight bulls. From age 2, growing up in Eugene, he wanted to be a bullfighter.
He was inspired by the fighters who would save his dad, Mark, a retired professional bull rider.
Tennent wrestled throughout high school and college — people rather than bulls.
When he was 14 he went to bull fighting school and when he was 18 he went pro. Now 33, he’s made a living fighting bulls for the past 16 years.
Tennent has paid his dues. He’s broke his right leg six times, broke his left orbital socket, had his right ear completely detached and reattached, and had his inner sphincter ripped out. After 10 days in the hospital, three surgeries and three months when he couldn’t “wipe his own ass,” he continues to fight bulls.
Bull fighting is his reason for being.
“I need a bull like a junkie needs a vein, like a surfer needs a wave,” he said. “Me without a bull is like Jimi Hendrix without a guitar. It almost makes me emotional whenever I strap on these cleats because it’s not about the money, it’s about being happy.”
His wife, Kaycie Tennent, said she thinks Jesse would “go crazy” if he couldn’t fight bulls.
The other reason Jesse goes toe-to-hoof with a one-ton beast that bucks and twists in a tornado of dust and spit is to protect the riders.
“Come hell or high water I’m not quitting on these guys,” he said about the riders. “These guys put their hand on the rope and I would go to war for them.”
“It’s all about protecting the rider,” Peterson said. “That’s how you get your job.”
On Saturday the dynamic duo kept 28 riders from major injury at the Baker County Fairgrounds.