Every family has a legacy.
Whether it’s playing a specific sport, excelling in a certain art, inventing an innovative product, starting a small business, carrying on a well-established family company or something entirely differnt, every family has a legacy that it strives to pass on to its future generations.
For the Rich family of Eaton, that legacy is all about the emerging sport of American Bull Fighting.
Kevin Rich formed American Bull Fighting LLC in May 2010 and has been working to grow the sport across Colorado and the US The organization works to promote the athleticism of bullfighters, formerly referred to as “rodeo clowns.” The Rich family also owns Wild West Cattle, which raises purebred fighting bulls as well as bucking bulls.
“We were one of very few people who had fighting bulls so I just decided to start a little association and Mark Reinert, who used to be head of the Greeley Stampede Committee, and Wes Sargent, actually joined in,” Kevin Rich said. “That’s how the ball got rolling and here we are. There are other associations out there.”
Unlike Spanish- or Mexican-style bull fighting, where bulls are often stabbed with swords to subdue or even kill the bull, American bull fighting pits human against animals in a performance of mind and body.
Bullfighters have 70 seconds in the ring with a purebred Mexican or Spanish fighting bull to maneuver out and outthink the animal. The goal of the bullfighters is to get as close to the bull as possible without getting hurt. This includes stunts like jumping over the bulls, placing their cowboy hat on the bull’s head, touching the bull’s horns and other hair-raising stunts.
While regular bucking bulls can be ridden a few times, fighting bulls are tricky because they are quick learners and start to pick up on bullfighters’ moves and motives.
“Some of them other associations will fight their bulls every two weeks and they wonder why they are getting soured up and no good,” Kevin Rich said. “Now me, I am every month and a half or two months. They are not like bucking bulls, you can’t use them all of the time.”
As the sons of a bullfighting contractor, it was a natural progression for the Rich boys — Ryder, 21, and Roper, 19 — to step into the arena.
“It’s just the family business. We’ve been around it our entire lives,” Roper quipped.
“It is the family business, but seeing dad fight bulls growing up, we naturally kind of got thrown into it. At some point, we knew it was going to happen,” Ryder said. “We were born into it. We grew up around bucking bulls, we grew up around fighting bulls and to go outside everyday of your life and work bulls, you think, ‘Hey, maybe this is going to work.'”
Kevin Rich’s only concern about the boys getting into bullfighting was that they were both phenomenal baseball players.
“Actually, Ryder got hurt at the Greeley Stampede one year, and it messed up his throwing arm up,” Kevin Rich said. “So I thought, ‘That was stupid.’ It was so stupid that I let Roper do it.”
Due to his injury, Ryder ended up having to undergo shoulder surgery, which took him out of the game while COVID-19 nixed Roper’s senior year of baseball.
For the boys’ mom, Amy Rich, she thought Ryder and Roper would “get it out of their system” early on and pursue a path in baseball rather than in rodeo.
“I thought, you know, I am going to just let this be,” Amy Rich said. “Kevin’s mom made it to where he could not fight, could not ride and that’s what he ended up doing. So, I wasn’t going to tell them they couldn’t do it … but I probably should have.
“It was inevitable; it’s in their blood,” she added, laughing.
The pride Amy Rich feels toward Ryder and Roper is more about how the two boys have embraced the western culture and the men they have become rather than their quick feet and bull-dodging capabilities.
“I am more proud of who they are and that they never meet a stranger,” she said, beaming. “And that they love this culture. I am thankful for that and that they are good men and their work ethic. It’s nice when your kids love what they do and there’s no one behind them pushing them. I am super proud of the people they are.”
Despite being brought up around fighting bulls, the challenge of facing a 1,500-pound animal and the build of adrenaline while in the ring are two things that keeps the Rich boys pushing to promote the sport.
“It’s electric, it’s man versus beast. You have 40 seconds with an animal that wants to kill you, and I will promise it is just as good as watching a bad bullfight as it is a good one,” Ryder said, chuckling. “In bull riding, you only care if somebody makes a whistle. But you see somebody get hooked in a bullfight and you’re like, ‘Hey man, this is a pretty good deal.'”
While Ryder started right out in the arena fighting bulls, Roper began his journey into the sport as a barrel man.
“Roper had been in the barrel for around two years and other guys started chirping at him to get out of the barrel,” Kevin Rich said. “Now that he’s got out of the barrel, they wish he’d get back in it. He was a real good barrel man.”
Neither Ryder nor Roper has attended bullfighting schools and the duo hone their skills by just “doing it.”
“There’s no other way to fight a bull than to just go and fight one,” Roper said.
As with many rodeo events, contestants are looking to snag some big financial wins, so getting enough money to attract the “good bullfighters” is a constant challenge, Kevin Rich explained.
“It’s kind of like everything — money drives it,” he said. “Other things are venues. I’m lucky enough here at the Budweiser Event Center to be in here, and we go to Casper here in a month or two.”
As Ryder continues to make his mark in the sport of bullfighting and cowboy protection, Roper is considering going back to the baseball diamond.
The family said they would like the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo to pick the sport back up.
“I think that freestyle bullfights is definitely underrated, and I think it needs to become a necessity,” Roper said. “Right now it’s not. You have your cowboy protection, but to be better at cowboy protection, the only way is to be a freestyle bullfighter.”
Many of the current members of cowboy protection teams were formerly freestyle bullfighters, Ryder said. Cowboy protectors protect the riders from the bulls while in bullfighting it’s all about the competition.
“The whole point of the game is to stay close (to the bull) without getting hit,” Ryder said. “Granted, it doesn’t always work out that way all the time.”
For more information on American Bullfighting LLC, or to learn about upcoming events, go to https://bit.ly/38Zyb4I.