Byrne brothers look out for each other as bullfighter and bull rider in PBR

May 3, 2014 Updated: May 3, 2014 at 8:48 pm
photo - Bull fighter Jesse Byrne, left, moves in to distract the bull, Big Red, after a successful ride from Professional Bull Rider Gauge Gay at the PBR tour stop at the Broadmoor World Arena Friday, May 2, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Bull fighter Jesse Byrne, left, moves in to distract the bull, Big Red, after a successful ride from Professional Bull Rider Gauge Gay at the PBR tour stop at the Broadmoor World Arena Friday, May 2, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Jesse Byrne had no time to think, only react.

With a thud, the bull rider hit the arena floor face first as Chocolate Thunder stomped on his helmeted head.

Concussed, the cowboy lay motionless.

Jesse did what comes naturally for a bullfighter. He threw himself in front of his younger brother, trying to protect him from further injury.

The bull tossed Jesse aside and danced on and around Tanner Byrne, slamming sharp hooves and 2,000-plus pounds down on the fallen cowboy's shoulders and back as the crowd roared, then groaned and finally gasped.

The other bullfighters distracted the beast and Jesse jumped onto the prone man, putting his body in harm's way again. Eventually the behemoth tired and left the Boise arena.

It was all over in a few seconds.

"That's the beauty of it," Jesse said. "You don't have a moment to think about what you're doing or you might not do it. It was no different than any other rider until afterward."

Then, he had a moment to check on his brother whom he saved from further injury or worse. Dazed, Tanner stumbled to his feet and walked out of the arena.

Then it was on to the next rider for Jesse.

"You only have a few seconds to refocus and prepare for the next rider and bull," he said three weeks later. "It's what you do."

It takes that mindset to become arguably the best bullfighter on the Professional Bull Riders tour, which is competing this weekend at The Broadmoor World Arena.

His job, along with teammates Shorty Gorham and Frank Newsom, is to unthinkingly throw himself into danger; in his case, a one-ton bull with a nasty disposition.

Jesse will do it again. He has done it hundreds of times before and since his brother's injury.

"There aren't paychecks big enough for what they do," said Tanner, who competed the following weekend. "We ride once or twice a night while they are out there in harm's way 40 times. They save lives every weekend."

"They're the ones who should be making millions," rider Ryan Dirteater said.

Tanner is happy to have his older brother, 28, on the tour as a roommate each weekend. The 21-year-old rookie, ranked 20th in the season standings, is battling for a berth in the PBR world finals Oct. 22-26 in Las Vegas.

Jesse's job since age 16 is to help cowboys competing this weekend do it all again the next. They do their best, but regular injury updates from the PBR prove that even the world's best riders lose to North America's rankest bulls more often than not.

"It's part of the life," Tanner said.

How does one unthinkingly throw themselves between a raging bull and a near stranger? It helps to have a rodeo arena in your Saskatchewan front yard and bullfighter Ryan Byrne as your father.

Ryan was the first Canadian to work the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association National Finals Rodeo (1986, 1987 and 1993). Jesse was the first of his countrymen to work the PBR world finals as an injury replacement in 2008.

"He didn't try to prove that he belonged there," Gorham has said. "He just fell into a groove and learned our way - within minutes. I walked up to his dad and I said, 'Don't ever let him change a thing cause this kid's a badass right there.'"

He has been one of the best ever since.

"I benefited greatly from having the father I do," Jesse said. "I learned how to read bulls and cowboys so you can anticipate when you need to step in."

The siblings enjoy putting their bodies on the line before a cheering crowd of thousands. For Jesse, that means fending off a bull trying to make mincemeat of him and a cowboy.

"We're good friends," Tanner said. "I am lucky to have him with me on the tour."

So are a lot of bull riders.

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