Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Kris Buffalo spends his days working as an educational assistant in the Alberta city of Wetaskiwin.
Buffalo’s other job, which he fulfils on many weekends throughout the province and at times in the United States, is much more dangerous.
The 34-year-old Samson Cree Nation member is a bullfighter, who must keep his composure even while coming face-to-face with an upset animal weighing as much as 2,000 pounds.
In rodeo, it’s the bull riders that get the majority of the attention. They are the ones who mount a bucking bull and do their best to stay upright while being tossed around in various directions often to the cheers of entertained fans.
Whn the bull manages to knock off a competitor, that’s when bullfighters like Buffalo jump into action.
“My job is distracting the bull,” he said. “I try to get the bull going in the other direction to get his (attention) away from the participant.”
Bullfighters were previously also called rodeo clowns. They would dress up in elaborate costumes to not only provide a distraction for the bulls, but to provide comic relief for spectators.
“I come from a rodeo family and the rodeo clown was always a glamorous type of job,” Buffalo said.
Bullfighters work in teams of three, operating in unison to provide safety for fallen bull riders.
Though he’s been a member of the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) since 2013, it was earlier this month that Buffalo achieved a first.
He was one of the three bullfighters selected to work the CPRA championship finals, which were staged Nov. 3 to Nov. 7 in Red Deer, Alta.
CPRA bull riders chose the three individuals they believed were best suited for the job at the national finals.
“It was a huge honour for me to be in those finals and to be voted for it,” said Buffalo, who lives in Maskwacis, Alta.
Buffalo had also achieved another first one month earlier. He was selected to be one of the bullfighters for the Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR) season-ending event, held Oct. 19 to Oct. 23 in Las Vegas.
Buffalo has been around rodeo his entire life. His father Kirk was a bull rider and bareback rider. And his late grandfather Howard competed in team roping and other riding events.
“My uncles and my aunties rode as well,” Buffalo said.
He recalls his introduction to the sport occurred when he was either four or five years old. He started out in mutton busting events, which feature young children riding sheep.
Buffalo also played hockey while growing up. He made it to the Junior B ranks with a team in Leduc.
“I didn’t take hockey as seriously,” he said.
At age 20, Buffalo attended a rodeo school in Vermilion, Alta., where he was convinced to keep pursuing a rodeo career into his adult life.
Facing a bull has become second nature to Buffalo.
“I’ve done it for a while,” he said. “When you’ve done it for a long time, it become muscle memory.”
Yet it still takes a special type of individual to even want to get into the arena.
“Your adrenaline is there to take away the pain,” Buffalo added. “I have that instinct to help a fellow man who is unable to do it himself.”
While some other bullfighters have incurred their share of broken bones and other serious injuries throughout their careers, Buffalo said he has been pretty fortunate.
“For me, it’s been mostly bruises on my arms, knee and legs,” he said, adding he’s also sustained several cuts but has required a total of perhaps 10 stitches in his life.
Buffalo, however, did fracture a rib in at the INFR event last month in Las Vegas. And he fractured a second rib this month at the CPRA championships in Red Deer. He has suffered a pair of concussions during his bullfighting days as well.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate with those too,” he said.
Buffalo plans to stick with his day job of teaching. With his educational assistant position he’s currently helping out Grade 8 students on a one-to-one basis at Sacred Heart School.
Plus, he plans to stick with his bullfighting career for several more years.
“Being on top, I want to stay on top and put in that work to do so,” he said.
Buffalo said he is hoping to get more youth introduced to rodeo. For those who are not interested in competing in events, Buffalo said there are still plenty of other opportunities, including pulling gates, playing music or announcing.
“I just want to get them involved in the sport of rodeo,” he said.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.