Bull Riding is one of the fan favorite events at a rodeo, encompassing athleticism and skill all wrapped up in a high adrenaline danger zone. The protector of the unscripted event is one of rodeos unsung heroes, the bullfighter, who uses their skill and body to shelter the bull riders.
The primary role of a bullfighter is to distract the bull and lead it away from the rider after being dismounted, providing a fraction of time for the rider to find safety. It takes in-depth skill involving fancy foot work, precise timing, and faith over fear.
Layton Woodbury, of Carson, N.D., found himself captivated by the actions of a bullfighter, triggering a desire to start studying the skill at a young age. A short decade later, Woodbury is seated as the #1 position in the BFO (Bull Fighters Only) Pendleton Whiskey world standings. He is set to compete at the World Finals coming up in Las Vegas December 8-9 and 14-16.
Woodbury lays out his journey for us to be inspired by.
Who or what intrigued you to step into the arena to protect a bull rider from a 1500 pound animal with an attitude?
“The main influencer has been my father, Dick Woodbury, who had fought bulls for over 20 years, acquiring many achievements. I grew up around the sport with a desire to try it, knowing it is an extreme and dangerous sport. To my mother’s dismay, adrenaline has always struck me, craving the feeling of being so close to danger.”
The role of a Bullfighter is a critical act to carry out. To start mastering the skill you must start somewhere, where and with whom did you take your first test drive?
“It all began as a little boy watching old films of my dad fighting bulls. I would sit for hours studying his footwork and timing. When I was not watching films, I was helping work cattle on the ranch, unknowingly gaining an understanding of reading cattle. I feel these things gave me a head start and an advantage at an early age.
“In July 2019, I decided it was time to give it a try in Beulah, N.D. with bullfighters, Tim Walford and Jake Fox, along with my dad coaching from the sideline. Although I was nervous, it was exciting and immediately addicting.”
Every time you enter an arena, your mastery grows sharper. What have been some valuable lessons / technique you have learned along the way?
“The most valuable knowledge I received was from my father, ‘Slow is Fast.’ A bullfighter’s job is to be the easier target, with the understanding of knowing when to slow down and put yourself in a position to take the explosive blow to save the bull rider. It took me awhile to comprehend, but once it clicked, I gained a new range of vision. In the midst of the action, it began to play out in slow motion. I could see details of the bull and still have the ability to react to the bulls movement. This has allowed me to relax in the arena and gain the right timing to respond as the action is playing out.”
You are establishing a name at the Bull Fighters Only (BFO) events exhibiting your passion and skill. Please share with us a highlight reel of your most notable achievement.
“In May of 2022, I went to Granbury, Texas for a BFO development camp. I walked away enhancing my skills and a wealth of knowledge to build on. A year later (during) my senior year of high school, I received a text in class inviting me to compete at Fortuna, California in a BFO freestyle bullfighting competition. I was beyond excited, but the text landed my phone in the office for the day.
“June 30th, 2023 was my first competition at a BFO in Cody, Wyoming resulting in a second-place finish. Needless to say, I was hooked! I went on to compete at three major events all ending in a first-place finish, cashing in at $10,000 each.
“After Ogden, Utah my ticket was punched to compete at Las Vegas for the richest 4-man bullfight in the world, the FIGHT FOR FIFTY. I drew the #1 ranked bull in the world owned by Hamsher Fighting Bulls, Habenero. The outcome had no hardware or cash to take home, just a few cuts and bruises accompanied by a stepping stone experience.”
Fighting bulls takes a level of physical and mental strength. How do you prepare yourself, so you are at peak performance in the arena?
“Stepping in the arena with a fiercest 4-legged animal is both physically and mentally challenging. This sport comes with serious risk; one false move could result in an injury. It takes a lot of sweat and preparation to arm oneself to step into the arena. On the physical side, I devote time to the gym working on strength and agility along with countless hours in the arena perfecting signature moves keeping my legs used to maneuvering on the arena floor.
“The mental side of the sport is the toughest part. No normal person wants to step in the arena to battle a 1500 lb bull with an attitude. I study videos, breaking them down into pieces, so I can mimic the footwork and timing mentally and physically. Frank Newsome offered a bit of advice that has stuck with me, ‘To not battle the nervousness but to accept it as is, since you cannot change it.’”
What is your favorite part about being in the arena?
“My favorite part of my profession is protecting the athletes, so they can keep following the yellow lines to the next rodeo. On top of that are the laughs, friendships, and memories being made with our rodeo family.”
In closing, what could you offer the next young athlete looking to follow in your footsteps?
“Big or small it is still a dream! Be proud of your success today, and continue to chase it with a 110%.”
Luke 1:37 “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”