When rodeo bullfighter Brett Monea gets close-up and personal with a 2,000-pound animal, he thinks of it as “manipulating chaos.”
The 38-year-old married father of two from Carstairs is one of three bullfighters at the Canadian Finals Rodeo this week at the Peavey Mart Centrium at Red Deer’s Westerner Park. It is Monea’s 11th appearance at the CFR.
His job is distracting unpredictable, bucking bulls once they have thrown off their riders to give the cowboys a better chance to escape the arena, un-gored and un-trampled.
Dressed in oversized pants that flap around like a Spanish bull-fighting cape — “They make me a better target when I’m moving,” explained Monea — he and fellow bullfighters Tanner Byrne and Ty Prescott form a nightly “triangle of protection” around the cowboys.
Bullfighters are often mistaken for rodeo clowns, who once used to run interference with the animals.
Today that is strictly a bullfighter’s job — and there’s nothing ha-ha about it.
While rodeo clowns perform attention-getting antics to get the crowd laughing, bullfighters are at their best when nobody particularly notices them, said Monea, for that means that nobody’s getting hurt.
To try avoid the sharp end of a horn, he tries to get the bull chasing him in tight circles. Monea said, after getting the animal’s attention, he will take off running away from the cowboy, abruptly changing directions, since large animals cannot turn on a dime the way humans can.
This is something he first learned at the age of 17, while attending a bullfighting school near Balzac in 2001.
Monea later honed his skills on the amateur circuit. Since 2007, he’s been a full member of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, protecting cowboys at the Calgary Stampede, the Professional Bull Riders Rodeo Canadian Finals, the CFR and other major events across Canada.
Monea noted that bull riders always get to vote on which bullfighters they want protecting them at rodeos, so he feels honoured by their trust whenever he’s chosen.
Of course, sometimes, his luck has run out.
It happened at a rodeo in Cloverdale, B.C. about four years ago. He recalled being thrown up in the air by a bull and “the back of my head broke my fall.” The resulting concussion and strained neck still troubles him today — but he feels good he got in the way and prevented this from happening to a cowboy.
“I’ve always known it isn’t a matter of if, but when you get hurt,” said the cattle rancher.
Monea is a journeyman carpenter who raises breeding stock near Carstairs with his wife Amy, a social worker who uses animals, including horses and cattle, for mental health therapy.
He grew up on his parents’ farm near Wetaskiwin and was later a member of 4H. He recalled seeing his first rodeo bull event at about age 13 and thinking “That’s crazy! How can they do that?”
In his mid-teens, Monea tried riding bulls but soon realized that he liked the adrenaline rush better while on the ground, getting chased by them.
He stressed rodeo bulls were bred to buck, the same way as chihuahuas were bred to be tiny lap dogs.
“Their mothers were buckers and their fathers were buckers” so these bulls would be bucking in any event, added the bullfighter. The leather flank strap does not cross a bull’s genitals, as many people think, he added, but rather sits in front of the bull’s s hind legs as an irritant that he wants to get off.
Monea considers cattle his favourite animal because of their smarts and power. But would he want his kids to be in the arena with bulls?
“I’d encourage them to be whatever their heart desires,” he said.
His son, Wesley, age 9, wants to learn to ride steers. But his daughter Kate, 7, has already told him she’s definitely interested in bullfighting.
“My daughter worries me more,” he admitted with a chuckle.