Protecting Cowboys Is Life’s Dream Come True For Rodeo Bullfighter-Bulldogger
By Frank J. Buchman
Cowboys are dreamers, so it seems, often with fascination from early days of succeeding in the Western sport, and many even following their inspirations to arena competition rewards.
Wade Kunze is a cowboy, a good one following in his dad’s bootsteps, but most of his adrenalin rush as a preschooler was fired up from other than the competition side of the rodeo arena.
“I grew up in Iowa, going to rodeos with my Dad. After one performance, I was just three or four, I asked Dad if he won any money, and he shook his head no. Then, I asked Dad if the bullfighter won any money, and he said they get paid every time they’re at a rodeo saving cowboys from the bulls. I decided I wanted to be a bullfighter right then,” Kunze verified.
And, Wade Kunze certainly is a bullfighter, one of the most demanded cowboy-savers in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), working about 20 rodeos throughout the country, more than 50 performances annually.
Many little cowboys say they want to do one rodeo event one time, and another the next, but from his childhood fantasies, Kunze never strayed the least.
“Whenever I went to rodeos, while I was still very young, I always wanted to and often dressed up like the bullfighters. I watched those guys, and even imitated them the best I could from the sidelines,” Kunze admitted.
It was especially exciting for Kunze when he really could get in on the action. “I started helping out during the mutton busting and steer riding at kid rodeos, and my inspirations to be a bullfighter just got stronger and stronger,” he confessed.
Still just a teenager, Kunze, at 19, acquired his PRCA card, and got his first contract to fight bulls at a professional rodeo in the state of New York. “They called, needed a bullfighter, I went. You never forget that first one,” he conceded.
“Evidently, I did all right, because then I started getting calls from rodeo committees, and more and more. It’s been just great, doing exactly what I’d always dreamed of doing, being a rodeo bullfighter,” Kunze said.
Selected as the bullfighter for the PRCA Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo in both 2004, at just age 20, and again in 2006, Kunze has worked as a bullfighter at top rodeos throughout the country.
However, as indicated, Kunze is a rodeo competitor, as well. “I’m a steer wrestler, was on my Dunlap (Iowa) High School Rodeo Team one year, and after going to Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, for a couple of years, I received a scholarship to be on the rodeo team at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva,” Kunze noted.
Qualifying for and competing successfully for the NWOSU team at the National College Rodeo Finals in steer wrestling in 2008, Kunze graduated from college with a degree in ag business.
He pursued his most successful professional rodeo career from two sides of the arena, as the paid contract bullfighter and as a bulldogging contestant, often taking home two checks from rodeo treasurers.
“I generally do both at most rodeos where I’m fighting bulls, and also go to some other rodeos entered in the steer wrestling,” Kunze said.
Rodeo tradition is followed by Kunze in his bullfighter getup of bright pink fringed shirt, baggie pants and grease paint. “I really don’t clown, but I like to get dressed up for the bullfighting,” he said.
“Fortunate,” he recognized, Kunze has never been seriously injured in the even more dangerous profession of protecting fallen cowboys from mean mad fighting bulls in what often is referred to as the “most dangerous sport participated in by man,” and certainly in the rodeo arena.
“It could happen at any time, but I’ve never been hurt too bad. You always takes some hits, have some bruises, are usually a bit sore. But, I try to be continuously alert, ahead of the bulls, and keep watching bulls all of the time. I keep my eyes on the bulls every time they come out of the chutes; it gives me an insight to what they might do. My job is to make sure the cowboys don’t get hurt; helping others, that’s the best part of it all,” Kunze said.
Generally in recent times, Kunze has “mounted out” in the steer wrestling, using a bulldogging team owned by others, but that’s likely going to change.
“I’ve been training a young horse, and he’s progressing such, that I anticipate riding my own mount in the steer wrestling down the road,” Kunze informed.
As if all that isn’t enough to keep a cowboy-bullfighter in shape, and seemingly always busy, Kunze is employed at a steel shop in his now hometown of Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and even finds time for his hobbies, to go fishing and hunting when the seasons arrive. “There’s never a dull moment,” he contended.
While there’s not a rodeo bullfighting contract every weekend, Kunze readily pointed out, “I’m not trying to make a living at it, I just love to fight bulls. Obviously, it’s always been in my blood, and there’s no way it’ll ever get out.”
Consequently, now just 31-years-old, Kunze will continue performing before rodeo crowds throughout the country as both a cowboy competing in the bulldogging, and minutes later in greasepaint and baggies saving cowboys from the bigger, even ranker bulls.
“I don’t see an end to my career in rodeo. I enjoy every bit of it, and don’t intend to retire from either aspect of the sport any time in the near future,” Kunze informed.
Rodeo fans will have an opportunity to see the cowboy-bullfighter in action this weekend at the annual Linn County Fair Rodeo, Friday and Saturday evenings, Aug. 7-8, in Mound City, Kansas.
“Come on down. It’ll be a great show from beginning to end. I anticipate being there and helping save cowboys from Jimmy Crowther’s New Frontier Rodeo Company bulls. Those rank, mean bulls are truly some of the best in the business. They buck, and then do their best to eat the cowboys, when they’re dismounted, whether before or after the whistle,” Kunze said.