- Associated Press - Thursday, July 24, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Dusty Tuckness could go without watching another second of video and still be one of the best bullfighters in the world.

He could stop overloading his brain with bulls’ tendencies and riders’ preferred ways to get off their draws and still be one of the best bullfighters in the world.

Tuckness could skip the occasional workout and maybe enjoy a night on the town and still be one of the best bullfighters in the world.

But that’s just not the way the 28-year-old is wired.

He has a passion for bullfighting, and that profession comes with enormous responsibility. Getting between the bull rider and an angry Brahma even a split second late could have some serious repercussions.

That’s why the Meeteetse, Wyoming, bullfighter buries his face in video. And it’s why he works out obsessively.

“You’re hurting yourself, and you’re doing (bull riders) a disservice if you don’t commit yourself,” Tuckness said. “I’m not saying that my way is the best way. It’s what I think I need to do to do my job to the best of my ability.”

That dedication to his craft has earned Tuckness the respect and admiration of those he’s tasked with protecting.

Bull riders vote on which bullfighters will appear at the year-end National Finals Rodeo, and Tuckness has been at the last five finales. They also vote on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s bullfighter of the year award, an award Tuckness has won for the past four years.

“There aren’t many guys who are at his level right now,” said four-time world champion J.W. Harris of Mullin, Texas. “Anytime you get a bull that’s really bad at hooking and you see Dusty standing in the arena, you really aren’t as worried.

“I’d climb on Godzilla if Dusty was standing out there.”

Tuckness never got into bullfighting for accolades or admiration, but that doesn’t mean that having earned the respect of his peers means any less.

“Fighting bulls is my passion, and it’s awesome to see that guys are appreciative of that,” Tuckness said. “Our category is so different from the contestants’. Theirs is based on winning money and earning money and titles. Ours is voted on.

“Those cowboys can have a poor winter and then get hot in the spring and summer and still win a world title. For bullfighters, if we don’t do our job for a stretch, those guys are going to see that and remember that. We can’t have an off-day.”

Timber Tuckness is a longtime bullfighter and barrelman. When he wasn’t protecting bull riders, he was entertaining crowds during rodeos.

Dusty Tuckness was a fixture by his father’s side during all those years on the road. It wasn’t long before the bullfighting bug bit the younger Tuckness.

“The whole rodeo industry, sport and Western lifestyle were so attractive,” Dusty Tuckness said. “You have to be tough because you’re not going to get babied out here. I was never babied as a kid.”

Tuckness first tried his hand at bullfighting in his early teens and was hooked.

“Being able to step out there and put yourself at risk for another person that you may or may not know gives you a great feeling,” Tuckness said. “It’s indescribable.”

That feeling led Tuckness to give up riding bulls himself. The adrenaline rush just wasn’t the same.

It also led him to forgo football scholarship offers from a handful of four-year schools.

“I opted out of that as soon as the coaches recruiting me told me that I couldn’t fight bulls,” Tuckness said. “That was God’s way of showing me what path I should choose.”

Tuckness may have passed on football, but the skills he learned as a running back and linebacker help him as a bullfighter.

“The biggest similarity is reading and reacting in a split second,” he said. “But you also have to be mentally tough and learn to play through pain. You have to find a way to do what you have to do, even if you’re not feeling your best because people are still counting on you.”

Tuckness may have won the last four PRCA bullfighter of the year awards, but he is far from satisfied. There is still room for improvement.

“I’ve never thought that I can’t learn something new,” he said. “There are a lot of unpredictable things that happen in the arena, and you can’t prepare for it all, but I watch a lot of film so I can learn from my mistakes and put myself in better positions to read and react and make the right decisions.”

Bullfighter Darrell Diefenbach calls Tuckness a student of the profession. That tunnel-like focus and extra effort will only help Tuckness as he continues, Diefenbach said.

“He’s working toward an end product where he won’t get hooked nearly as much,” Diefenbach said. “He has those wild times that end up on YouTube because he’s doesn’t really care what happens to himself. He’s only worried about doing his job.

“The more he goes that extra mile in his preparation, the less likely he is to be in that position where he’s going to get hooked. In a few years, he’s going to use his experience, his aggression and his love for fighting bulls to be so smooth and so solid.”

Tuckness moved to Meeteetse from Idaho just before high school, but he considers Wyoming his home state.

This is his first year working Cheyenne Frontier Days full time. He joined Diefenbach and Mike Matt in the arena in 2012 when Diefenbach suffered an injury.

Working one of the pro rodeo circuit’s biggest events is thrilling enough. Having that event in your home state is merely a cherry on top.

“The atmosphere and environment, the great committee and being from this state make it a really neat deal,” Tuckness said. “Working this rodeo was something I always wanted to do, and I had a lot of fun when I did it before.

“But I knew that I wasn’t going to be invited back. I knew that I had to keep doing my job, stay consistent, working hard and never slack off. Hopefully I’m here for a lot of years to come.”

___

Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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