Barrelman Denny Halstead awaits his time to step into the ring. (Photo courtesy Kent Soule - Hoot Creek Photography)

Barrelman Denny Halstead awaits his time to step into the ring. (Photo courtesy Kent Soule - Hoot Creek Photography)

The ballad of the bullfighter | KITSAP COUNTY FAIR

Ask a bullfighter why they go out there, night after night, and put themselves in harm’s way, and the answer might leave you unsatisfied.

Not every person is up for the job of getting hooked down or run over by a 900-pound bull, but those who do it simply do so because they love it.

“It’s something you love to do,” said bullfighter Josh Daries. “There’s not much explanation other than that, and most people think we’re crazy for doing it.”

Daries will be one of the bullfighters on hand when the rodeo comes to the Kitsap County Fair in August along with Eric Layton and barrelman Dennis Halstead. All three have made the trip to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds a few times before, and it’s always one of their favorite stops thanks to the mild weather, good food and fun crowds.

“It seems like everywhere else we go in the country it’s hotter than hell,” Layton said.

In rodeo, the bullfighters main job is to distract the bull away from a rider that has been bucked off. The distraction allows the rider to get away unharmed, meanwhile the bullfighters expose themselves to great danger in doing so. It’s not usually what comes to mind when you think of an extreme sport, but there isn’t much out there that’s more dangerous.

Bullfighters, also known as rodeo clowns, stemming from a time when they dressed up in full clown makeup, tend to wear bright clothing that tears away easily with protective equipment underneath.

It’s a tough way to making a living. It’s physically demanding, it’s long hours on the road away from home and can lead to injuries, even death. But for the folks that do it, there’s simply no substitution for having a passion for their job.

Layton, 35, got into riding bulls as a youngster in California. Like virtually everyone else in his hometown, he loved to check out the rodeo every summer and became a junior rider. But he ultimately gave it up. Standing at 6 feet 2 inches, he considered himself too tall to be a rider. But one day, while helping out his friends, he put on a pair of cleats, got down into the dirt and discovered his true talent.

“I just like the rodeo and I wanted to do something,” Layton said. “I just tried it to help my buddies out and it was pretty awesome. The adrenaline really gets going.”

Daries, another California-born bullfighter, has been around the rodeo his entire life. Members of his family, including his mother and uncle, were riders in Salinas where Daries grew up. So it’s no surprise that he pursued a career on the professional rodeo circuit.

“It steers you in that direction,” Daries said. “My family rodeoed, I grew up around the rodeo world. It appealed to me.”

Daries has had a successful career — he has been named the California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association’s Bullfighter of the Year — and he enjoys life on the road as his lifestyle takes him to all corners of the country.

“We kinda go with the same people all the time, it’s kind of like a little family,” Daries said. “We get to see different parts of the country. We get to go up to Washington to see your neck of the woods.”

Halstead, who will serve as barrelman — a combination of a bullfighter and entertainer — at this year’s fair took quite a different path towards the rodeo circuit.

Halstead, 59, grew up in Canada, and like many boys from our neighbors to the north, he dreamed of being a professional hockey player. He even spent some time in Seattle in the 1970s with the Seattle Breakers junior team. But after giving up hockey he returned to Alberta and became a firefighter in Calgary.

One year, the Calgary Police and Fire Departments put on a charity rodeo. At the last minute, the entertainer for the rodeo backed out and Halstead stepped in to fill those duties. Two decades later, he’s seeking a national title at the yearly championships in Las Vegas. He has finished No. 2 in the world twice and has also been named Entertainer of the Year eight times in Canada.

“Never in a million years did I expect to be doing this for a living,” Halstead said. “This got so big I retired from the fire department too.”

He recently returned from a huge rodeo in Sydney, Australia, where he was playing to 25 to 30,000 people per night, but is looking forward to returning to Bremerton to play in Kitsap County.

And, like the riders themselves, he plans to hang on as long as he can.

“I’m in pretty good shape for my age,” Halstead said. “So as long as I love what I do, and I can take that hit, Ill be in that arena. I live to do what I do.”