A broken wrist. A bruised lung. Some fractured vertebrae.
Yet Wyatt Mason hasn’t really given anything that comes with a lesser risk of injury much thought.
“It’s kind of just been something I’ve always wanted to do,” Mason said, “and injuries are a part of the game.”
Mason was front and center at the College National Finals Rodeo even if he wasn’t the one riding, roping or tying any of the animals. The Casper native is a bullfighter, which means he’s the last line of defense for a rider in harm’s way.
Mason stands off to the side as each rider in the roughstock event tries to stay on his bull for 8 full seconds, the default time needed to earn a score. But as soon as the rider falls off, Mason and two other bullfighters spring into action in an attempt to distract the angry, one-ton animal so that the dismounted rider can get to his feet and escape without being stepped on, gored or worse.
“You can’t really hesitate,” Mason said. “If you hesitate, you’re late. Then you get the bull rider hurt or ourselves hurt. It’s really not a time for hesitation.”
Stepping in to protect riders means putting himself in danger should something go awry. He wears ankle braces to give them more support on the rodeo’s uneven dirt surface, but that’s the least of Mason’s worries.
Mason said his knees are often the first to hit when a bull knocks him to the ground, so he also wears knee braces. He sports a plastic vest with extra padding on the back as a precaution to protect his organs.
Mason made it through the first days of the rodeo without incident, but that hasn’t always been the case. In addition to the broken wrist, four transverse process fractures and bruised lung he sustained, Mason also dislocated a hip a few years back while on the job.
“I don’t know if it’s crazy,” Mason said with a smile. “It’s just a job. We’re good at it.”
One has to understand Mason’s upbringing to fully comprehend why he chooses to stick with such a hazardous line of work.
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Born and raised in Casper, Mason fell in love with rodeos at an early age, particularly the one that serves as the city’s biggest attraction every summer. Mason grew up attending the CNFR and became infatuated with those who were responsible for the riders’ safety.
“I kind of was never really interested in the bull riding part, but I always found something cool about the bullfighters,” Mason said. “Always had my eye on them.”
Mason got his first taste of bull fighting at 16 years old. He graduated from Natrona County High School in 2015 and attended nearby Casper College for one year, but the allure of pursuing bull fighting as a career was too strong.
Mason said he spent time at different bull riding schools and was eventually evaluated for a pro card in the summer of 2017. He was approved in August of that year.
Now, at just 23 years old, he’s working his first CNFR as a professional after being passed over for the event last year.
“I felt like this is what really inspired me to be a bullfighter, watching some of the top guys in the world come fight bulls here,” Mason said. “Getting the call to come here was super special.
“This is definitely one of my biggest goals, and to be able to achieve it at such a young age is pretty unreal.”
There’s always the fear of the unknown when trying to corral an 1,800-pound bull. “You could get hurt at any minute,” Mason admitted, but it’s the job — and the risk — he signed up for.
“Laying down your life for somebody else,” he said. “Those bull riders, when they come off, they don’t know where the bull’s at. They don’t know where to get out safely, so giving them a second chance and an opportunity to get out of there is a super special feeling.”
Besides, Mason can’t imagine doing anything else.
“It’s just kind of been a childhood dream of mine,” he said.