McKettrick bests bulls, mud in Mandan
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McKettrick bests bulls, mud in Mandan

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There’s bullfighters. Then there’s bullfighters. And finally, there’s bullfighters like Riley McKettrick of Arcadia, Fla.

 McKettrick spends half his time protecting cowboys from raging bulls like those in the Berger pen. He spends the other half plodding through dirt and mud and trying to stay one step ahead of bulls that are born and bred to take on toreadors head to head.

 The week, McKettrick was at the Mandan Rodeo Days Rodeo, where he was the only bullfighter skilled – and lucky – enough to turn in three scored “fights.”

 When the final performance ended, McKettrick had earned an 81 ton with the overall crown, and a pulled hamstring as a bonus.

 “I pulled something in my leg but I’ll be fine though,” McKettrick said.

 McKettrick was the only bullfighter to go all three nights. Sage Seay went the first two nights but was unable to go Thursday. Jake Fox of Bismarck and Ty Whisenat of Mandan went but received no scores.

“Most of the time we can all get through three nights and get three scores pretty easy,” McKettrick said. “The dirt here has been pretty rough on us. All of us have been doing pretty good. I’m just glad to be able to make it through all three nights.”

 Other competitors, drove in, performed and hit the road for distant rodeos. But the American Freestyle Bullfighters threw caution to the wind for three performances.

 McKettrick posted scores of 80, 84 and 81 to finish the event with a 245. Seay, of Hackberry, La., went the first two nights with scores of 79 and 79. He couldn’t make the third performance.

 American Freestyle Bullfighting is an event created by longtime PBR bull fighter Shorty Gorham. It pits quicker fighting bulls against cowboys, who are scored on their engagement – being in close contact – with the bull for 30 seconds, plus a bonus 15 seconds in Mandan. It’s hard enough on loose dirt. Mud just makes it all the more dangerous.

 When all is said and done, the bullfighters are scored. There are no re-rides for a bad bull, and that’s OK. Once a night is enough.

 McKettrick has been fighting bulls for two years. When he’s not, he’s protecting bull riders.

 “I do cowboy protection, too. I do it pretty equal,” McKettrick said.

 McKettrick said payout for bullfighters can reach up to a couple thousand dollars.

“Usually it’s a good enough payout to try to get ourselves killed,” he said.

 Already a dangerous event, this year in Mandan had an added an element of danger – mud. Night after night of passing thunderstorms and heavy rain turned the arena into a dirt and mud mixture more conducive to four feet with hooves than two feet and boots.

 “The hardest part of this dirt is that it’s a little bit sticky and harder to get everything done,” McKettrick explained. “You gotta read how the dirt is in the first couple of seconds. I pulled something in my leg and to start throwing fakes.

 “The arena has been different every night,” McKettrick added. “First night was a little slick and the second night was really deep and sticky. Tonight’s the best it’s been.”

 Tuesday was the best it was in bareback. Four-time PRCA world champion Kaycee Field defended his title with an 87 but he has to share the title with Wyatt Denny. Both 87 stood up through three performances. Thursday’s top score were 82s by Dantan Bertsch and Hunter Green.

 In steer wrestling, Cody Devers of Balko, Okla., posted a 3.5, while Taz Olson of Prairie City, S.D., had the best score of the last go-round at 4.1.

 Other events were still going on late Thursday night. The top scores heading into the final round belonged to Jade Schmidt of Box Elder, S.D., and Jace Engesser of Spearfish, S.D. in team roping (5.5 seconds); Quay Howard of Canyon, Texas, in tie-down roping (8.4 seconds); and Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Okla., in bull riding (88.5).

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