Dancing with the bulls during Russell rodeo
Rule No. 1 in rodeo photography: Never look away. Not even for a second.
It’s an understood rule after the handful of previous rodeos I have covered.
So I was reminded of that rule when looking down for instant on my smart phone that I was using to take photos at the Russell rodeo last Saturday.
A large puff of dust suddenly blew into my face. When I looked up I was staring into the eyes of a 1,500-pound raging mad bull.
He snorted, and I jumped a little farther from the metal bars that separated the two of us. He snorted again, flung his head around and took off for the gate.
My stare down with Mr. Bull drew the attention of the rodeo clown sitting in a yellow barrel in the middle of the arena.
“Wow, he wanted to get you,” he yelled in his mic hooked up on his head.
The clown was so impressed with my rodeo skills that he started walking toward me. When he finally arrived to the metal bars, he motioned for my phone.
“I have it on Facebook Live,” I said.
He grabbed it anyways and headed back to his barrel and proceeded to film all the action from his barrel. Every bull riding, action-packed moment.
The clown used his mic to talk back and forth with the rodeo announcer.
“So just to let you know we are on Facebook Live right now,” he informed the announcer.
“Nice,” the announcer said.
The clown then turned the phone toward the audience sitting on the grassy hill above the rodeo. “Hey you all, wave. You are on Facebook,” he told the audience.
He got some “woooos.”
“Hey in Minnesota when they say ‘woooo’ they are holding two beers and they can’t wave,” the clown bellows out.
I found out after the rodeo finished that clown’s name was Allan Dessel — a cowboy from Cherokee, Iowa, of all places. Which was surprising to me.
“The Midwest is a great place to rodeo,” Dessel said. “I have rodeoed from coast to coast and border to border. You are not going to find better rodeos anywhere in the world than right in Minnesota because of the fans. Like you said, it’s not cowboy country. So when these people come to watch a rodeo, they are entertained. You can have a bunch of people who ride horses their whole life. They know what the horses are like. They know and are just there. These people come to have fun and be entertained.”
So I asked him how does a boy from Iowa get involved in rodeos?
“Just sort of by luck. My dad rodeoed before I was born. I grew up listening to him and all — and like every kid — I wanted to be like my dad. At 15 I started bucking bulls. Started roping, I think I was 12. So I just kind of progressed through it. I started working the barrel, oh about seven years ago. It was a way to see the country and do what I love to do,” Dessel said.
Dessel was smiling and having a pleasant conversation with the rodeo announcer the whole time sitting in that barrel. The bulls prancing around in front of him didn’t appear to concern him too much.
“You learn to read them,” Dessel said. “You learn what to look for. Bulls are like people. They give you warnings. You are kind of watching that. In the barrel I’m kind of bull-proof. They can hit me kind of hard and I’ll be all right. They might try to ring my bell a little bit, but at the end of the day, I’ll be all right.
“My job as a barrel man, if the two bull fighters get in a bind — they get in trouble, get knocked down or a bull gets away from them and he’s to a point they (bull fighters) can’t reach him (bull) — it’s my job to help them. I’m kind of an island of safety in the middle of the arena.”
Just like me with the bull who wanted to say hello, Dessel said he’s had some close calls.
“Bulls hit you. Get a foot on top of it (barrel). Get a hole on the bottom (of barrel) or something. A lot of close calls, but nothing major. Thank goodness. God has kept me safe all these years,” he said.
“So what kind of message was the bull sending me?” I asked Dessel.
“It was kind of a little warning. Get too close and I’ll get you,” he said.
At that point, a curious young lady approached us and started asking Dessel a bunch of questions too. Then she turned to me.
“And you. You are crazy,” she said.
I just smiled.
Little did she know that this wasn’t my first rodeo.
You can follow Mike Lamb at Twitter@indymlamb