December 5-14, 2024


It’s A Battle Of Inches 

Aug 11, 2023

It’s A Battle Of Inches 

By Susan Kanode 

            It’s no secret that bullfighters put their lives on the line every day protecting bull riders. Theirs is not a battle for scores, fast-times or first-place paychecks. It’s a battle of inches where rewards are contestant’s health and wellbeing. 

            A job well done sees a bull rider walking out of the arena, a stock contractor happy and a committee wanting you back another year. Since he joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 2006, Dusty Tuckness has risen to the top of the bullfighting ladder in near meteoric fashion. He has been a fixture at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the past 14 years and has been selected by bull riders as the Bullfighter of the Year 10 times. Is he the G.O.A.T of rodeo’s bullfighters? 

Dusty Tuckness during Round 10 of the 2022 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. | PRCA Photo by Hailey Rae

            There are plenty of great bullfighters that have stepped into the dirt ahead of him and most of them have never gotten the recognition they deserve. But men like Dusty aren’t in it for awards or accolades. For them it is a passion. Recognition is great, but a job well done with no injuries or incidences is the greatest reward. That success is a battle of inches between a man, an 1,800-pound animal and includes cooperation from your fellow bullfighters and the bull rider. 

            Being on top of their mental game every step of the way helps. It’s something that Dusty works at constantly and while it’s mental, the physical and spiritual aspects of being prepared are steps in the mental process that keep him going and pursuing excellence. 

            For Dusty, it all begins with trust. Trust the process, trust in Jesus, trust the training and trust what he has been working for. The process is an ongoing quest for excellence that started as a young boy dreaming of being a bullfighter. Growing up in the rodeo world, he was drawn to protecting cowboys and by his own admission, might have jumped in the arena a little too soon. In the process he received Jesus as his Lord and Savior and through depending on his faith, felt that this was God’s calling for him. 

            “That changed my mental game consciously,” Dusty said. “I started working towards goals in and out of the arena. I worked to develop good habits that turn into a good lifestyle.”

            That lifestyle outside of the arena includes daily devotionals, watching his nutrition and intense workouts. He wakes up every day and asks “What can I do today that will make me better?” That question is about being better in and out of the arena. 

Dusty just inches away from a bull at the 2023 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. | PRCA Photo by Click Thompson

            “If I can work each day to have 1% improvement, what will happen after 365 days?” Dusty asked. “Over the course of a year, that’s a lot of improvement. When I see progression, progression keeps me motivated.”

            Being one of the best bull fighters on the circuit takes some serious motivation. Dusty’s summer rodeo run has seen him working 20 days straight with two days off that he spent traveling. He considers every bit of that a blessing. 

            It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

            When he was offered a job at the 2009 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, he gladly accepted even though there were more than 30 performances, and he would be in the arena multiple times for two to three performances daily. That’s an ultramarathon. On January 17, 2023, he hit a milestone working his 400th performance at the legendary rodeo. “At a rodeo like Fort Worth that goes on for weeks, that’s when you have to have a sound mind,” Dusty said. 

            He looks to those that train for ultramarathons for inspiration, including David Goggins and Cameron Hanes. Both are living proof of what the mind and body can go through and accomplish.

            “A lot of what they say makes an impact on me,” Dusty said. “But one thing that David said, “The mind will shut off 40% of what we are capable of,” really resonated. If I’m only using 60% of what my body can withstand, what else can I do? These guys don’t just talk about it, they do it.” 

            Working on that other 40% physically benefits Dusty on the mental side. “It helps callous my mind for those times that are demanding in the arena,” he added. 

Dustin in action during the 2023 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. | PRCA Photo by Click Thompson

            While there are similarities in the mental game for contestants and bullfighters, there are some differences, and they are largely related to injuries. If a contestant is beat up, they have the option of taking a few days off. Bullfighters are obligated.

            “I feel like if I can physically get up and do my job, I have to be there,” he said. “I owe it to whoever hired me, the committee or contractor. And the guys in the next performance deserve the same job as you did for the last or the first group. That is a reflection of your craft.” 

            Dusty sets goals, lots of them, to keep him going. They range from long-term, to next year, to daily. He compares them to a train of dominoes. If they are lined up and fall correctly, it’s a sight to be seen. 

            He works at lining up those dominoes every single day. And they aren’t set on a flat tabletop. “There are peaks and valleys in rodeo that aren’t like any other sport,” he said. “You make the climb and when you get in that valley, you have to get back to your ‘Why’ and start climbing again.”

            Valleys for him are injuries. He’s had a few that have kept him out of the arena, most notably during the ninth performance of the 2021 NFR when he sustained a compound fracture to his lower leg. He had surgery and did lots of physical therapy to get back into fighting shape. Part of that was working on his mental game.

            “Physically I knew I would be alright,” he said. “I wanted to step into that arena just like I never left. That’s where I had to work on my mental game.”             

Dusty taken out of the arena during the ninth performance of the 2021 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Click Thompson

            The Justin Sportsmedicine Team has been an important part of Dusty’s success. They are at nearly every rodeo he goes to and being able to rely on them gives him peace of mind. 

            Dusty has a lot of tools in his toolbox to keep him at the top of his mental game. From trusting the process to setting goals, reading devotionals and listening to podcasts. His workouts are a big part of that too. And he rarely takes a day off from any of it. 

            “The only person that will keep you from accomplishing what you want to accomplish is you,” he said. “If you want to accomplish great things, you better be willing to put in the work to make that happen.”