December 5-14, 2024

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Know what you want

Jun 6, 2024

Know what you want

By Susan Kanode

I don’t remember when I first met Cody Webster or saw him fight bulls. But I noticed that his instinct for protecting cowboys is unsurpassed right away. I’ve watched Cody and Dusty Tuckness work together and if they were in the arena, I’d get on a bull myself and never think twice about my safety. Bull riders know that everything in the arena depends on the bullfighters. It’s no wonder that Cody has been selected for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 11 times and has been awarded Bullfighter of the Year the last four years.

Cody Webster works hard to stay at the top of his game all the time. That has garnered him 11 invitations to protect the bull riders at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. | Photo by Click Thompson

Cody grew up in rural Oklahoma with a family that competed in bull riding and barrel racing. Rodeo was part of his life, but he never considered anything but bullfighting. For as long as he can remember that is all he ever wanted to do. 

“I never wanted to ride bulls or team rope,” he said. “This is all I’ve ever dreamed about doing. Literally, for as long as I can remember. I wanted to paint my face and be a bullfighter. We’d go to rodeos, and I’d want to go find those guys and get my face painted. I had my own baggies. If I could get in the arena for the sheep riding, I was really doing good.” 

That desire to fight bulls and be the best has kept him motivated for more than 20 years now. The first time he stepped in the arena was at his grandfather’s place when he had just moved into double digits. Now 31, going back and watching those videos, he questions his mother’s judgment. 

But even if his mother hadn’t approved, he would still find a way. He talked about being 15 years old, sneaking out of school, hitchhiking to Oklahoma City then flying to North Carolina for a bullfighting competition. He knew what he wanted and was determined to get it. Cody spent a lot of time with the legendary Frank Newsome perfecting his craft. He also learned from Rex Dunn and others. 

To this day, he spends hours watching old and new videos. According to his wife, Ashley, he is eaten up with bullfighting and thinks about it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To stay on that path and never waver requires being physically and mentally fit. Support from friends and family doesn’t hurt either. 

“You’ve got to set goals and have an idea not so much about where you want to get overnight, but where you want to be when you’re done,” Cody said. “For me, it is literally just keeping guys safe. In rodeo, we become dumb about what can really happen. Death is part of that. We don’t like to talk about it, and I don’t even like to think about it. But there are people’s lives in our hands every time we step out there to protect these guys.”

That’s a reality check. “At the end of the day, if there is any hesitation, if you are thinking about something else or you are not where you are supposed to be, ultimately you could have something on your hands that would be pretty hard to wash off,” he added. 

Cody’s schedule includes more than  180 performances and 5,000 bulls at events sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Professional Bull Riders. With that comes injuries. Being physically fit helps the recovery process and often he is back in the arena much quicker than one would expect. Last July at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, he stepped in to take a shot for a bull rider. The contestant walked away. Cody did not. He had broken ribs, a bruised lung and tore muscles in his back. A few days later he was back in the arena. And that injury came just months after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. 

Cody Webster got mashed by a bull after stepping in to protect the rider. It’s all in a day’s work, but this one took him away from that work for nine days. | Photo by Click Thompson 

He was at home, taking care of cattle that are less than friendly. A bull got a hold of him and did some damage. With a nagging feeling of “things just aren’t right,” Cody got checked out by Dr. Tandy Freeman. They found the cancer which was at stage 1. “I honestly think that bull saved my life,” Cody commented. A month later, he was back in the arena. 

“All of those things make you dig down deep and question whether you really want to do this or not,” he said. “But I know that if I’ve done my job, someone else can continue to make a living or go home to their family. God willing, we will keep chasing them.” 

Cody and Ashley have a ranch near Wayne, Oklahoma, the Flying W where they have more than 300 head of livestock. That includes a herd of cattle that are bred for fighting. In between working PBR and PRCA events, he and Ashley work as stock contractors and are providing bulls at 50+ events this year. 

Success never comes without help or support from others. His wife, Ashley, travels with him when the ranch and work allows. Here they are in the tunnel before he steps into the arena at Cheyenne Frontier Days. | Photo by Susan Kanode

The ranching gives him another advantage. Being around cattle every day, especially cattle that don’t like humans, has him reading those cattle, watching how they move and thinking about reactions. 

“I really enjoy getting out and working on the ranch,” he said. “As crazy as it sounds, going out and stretching barbed wire gives me a chance to turn everything else off and think about things. At the same time, driving around, seeing everything I’m accumulating, the stock, the fences we are building and things coming together, it makes it easy to appreciate being a professional bullfighter.

“At the same time, when I’m stretching wire or digging a post hole I can think, ‘man this really sucks.’ But I can turn that into, ‘I’m getting a good arm workout in’ and be thinking about bullfighting. It’s all a piece of the puzzle that fills in when that gate opens.”

When that gate opens, Cody is in the zone. It starts when he steps into the arena and continues until he walks out. 

“For me, you check all emotions at the gate,” he said. “When it’s time to go to work, you’ve got to go in there with your head clear and be on reaction. I train all the time, mentally, physically, and spiritually. But at the end of the day, when it’s time to step in there and do your job, it’s throw caution to the wind and go do the very best you can do.” 

Cody’s career has been built around timing and reaction. | PRCA photo by Click Thompson

He’s making a life doing the very best he can and always striving to do better. He and Ashley play host to bullfighters who stay to learn. They often get life lessons on the ranch. When the crew went to gather a renegade, they circled their horses around before starting the task with a quick prayer from Cody. Along with praying for safety, he also thanked God for mean cattle. One of his helpers added fast horses and long ropes to the gratitude list.

After the work was done, a new roping dummy inspired a team roping match that saw them having fun and keeping their competitive nature on point. It’s all on his YouTube channel which reaches thousands of people. 

Cody is a cowboy, and he takes inspiration from other cowboys. “Kaycee Feild is a warrior. He’s a guy that you never really see have an off day,” he said. “When he showed up he was ready for a fight. Being around those kind of guys, that is who I want to surround myself with.” 

I want to surround myself with people like Cody and Ashley. It’s rare to see either one of them without a smile on their face and an attitude of gratitude. And, while they may be thankful for mean cattle, I’m thankful for them.