Skip to content

Sports This Week: Prince Albert bullfighter in the PBR

Job a key element of sport
jesse byrne-1
Jesse Byrne during the fourth round of the PBR World Finals Unleash the Beast tour.
YORKTON - When it comes to bull riding there are three key elements to the sport. 

The first obviously is the rider. 

The second is the bull which is integral to the sport. 

And, finally there are the bullfighters, who protect the rider from the typically unhappy bull when that rider hits the arena dirt, which he always does, whether making a high scoring ride or being tossed in two seconds. 

Prince Albert’s Jesse Byrne is one of the bullfighters at the high level of the sporting, protecting riders in the PBR. 

Byrne actually started out competing as a rider, but it was never exactly a comfortable place he wanted to be. 

“I started out riding. I did all the junior steer stuff. When I was 13, 14, 15 I moved into the high school bull riding division,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I had some success. It didn’t go too bad, but it wasn’t for me.” 

Byrne said there were simply bulls he wasn’t all that interested in riding. 

But, he still wanted to be involved, and at age 16 he changed course in terms of bull riding. 

“That’s the point where I was able to take on bullfighting,” he said, adding it was then he received his dad’s blessing. 

So if there were bulls he didn’t exactly want to ride, how was being in front of every bull as a ‘fighter’ better? 

“The difference for me was the feeling of being on my own two feet rather than being tied to them,” said Byrne with a chuckle. 

The change of course was actually following his father, which is where he said he came to want to fight bulls. 

“It was watching Dad do his thing all those years,” he said, adding he was just happy “I had a chance of following in his footsteps.” 

And once he started fighting bulls, Byrne was hooked. 

“Once I did it, it was everything I thought it would be,” he said. 

So what does it take to be part of a team of three bullfighters protecting 40-60 riders a show in the PBR? 

“You’ve got to be able to keep your focus,” said Byrne, and that includes being ready minutes after maybe being tossed by a bull. “You’ve just got to refocus,” he said, noting there is no taking off a shift or two because you are hurting. 

“Bumps and bruises are always there ... But the mental side, you’ve to have focus on what is in front of you.” 

While most of Byrne’s work with the PBR has him working stateside he was back in Canada, in fact back home in Prince Albert earlier this year, plying his trade as a bullfighter alongside his brother Tanner, a former PBR rider more recently turned to fighting. 

PBR Canada began its 2021 season June 11-12, launching the new season with the Tanner Byrne Invitational, in PA on Tanner’s utilizing his own property and bull riding arena. 

Jesse said it was a great family event. 

“It was super exiting,” he said, adding it came after “kind of a long wait for things to get going again (due to COVID-19 restrictions). 

“It was sort of a family reunion at the same time. That was just awesome. It was back to our roots, where it all started.” 

As for Tanner now fighting bulls, Jesse said it was almost inevitable. 

“He’s always loved bullfighting as much as I do,” he said. 

So, how about the sport overall? 

It continues to grow with big crowds watching what seems to be even better riders and even better bulls. 

Among the riders Brazil’s Jose Vitor Leme is number one in the world, and the reigning world champion. 

“It’s safe to say he’s one the best ever,” said Byrne, adding it’s likely he will break every record before he’s through, and he is only 25. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind every time the gate opens the bull’s the underdog (with Leme). He’s got the will and determination. It’s there every time.” 

The top bull right now is Woopaa from Barker Bulls and Hookin’ W Ranch.  

Byrne notes the bulls are every bit the athletic equal to the riders in the sport. 

“There’s lot of fans at PBR events because of the bulls ... The athleticism at that size you won’t see anywhere else,” he said. 

Recently, Leme drew Woopaa at the PBR 15/15 Bucking Battle in Tulsa, and the tandem did not disappoint. Leme made the eight second whistle and the judges awarded the ride a score of 97.75 the best ever in the PBR. 

It was a ride for the ages, but fate proved cruel to Byrne who did not work the event. 

“I kind of felt it was coming,” said Byrne, adding Woopaa is a dynamic bucking bull, and Leme simply at the top of his game.