By: Keith Ryan Cartwright June 17, 2014@ 02:20:00 PM
FORT WORTH, Texas – The emergence of Tanner Byrne means two things to his father, Ryan.
First and foremost, it means the former bullfighter-turned-judge is proud to see his youngest of three sons realize his childhood dream of competing on the Built Ford Tough Series and second, it’s a realization that he will no longer be judging events—at least, not BFTS events, while his son is competing.
Ryan, who has judged dozens of BFTS events in which his middle son, Jesse, has fought bulls alongside the likes of Shorty Gorham and Frank Newsom, will gladly step aside to see his sons achieve what they set out to accomplish.
The Byrne family grew up together traveling from one rodeo to another.
This isn’t a life they discovered. It’s the only life they’ve known.
Ryan was the first Canadian bullfighter to work the National Finals Rodeo, his wife, Kelley, was a barrel racer and naturally their three sons – Bo, Jesse and Tanner – knew of no other life and followed suit.
Most bull riders and bullfighters and everyone else involved in the sport, for that matter, sacrifice time away from their families in order to compete.
For the Byrne family, rodeos and, more recently, Built Ford Tough Series events, is where they travel to see one another.
“Bull riding is a sport that’s given me a lot,” said Jesse, “but, more importantly, it’s allowed me to stay with my family. It takes you all over the world, but it’s a common ground in our family.”
Jesse Byrne takes a shot from Western Way in Round 1 of the Rumble in the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In the past, summers were spent living out of a camper.
Jesse and Tanner both recall that if their parents were busy there was no shortage of other adults willing to look after them. Jesse called the experiences priceless.
“It was good that we could go on the road and hangout as a family and compete,” Tanner added. “We got to grow and support each other.”
Next month, the entire Byrne family will be in Calgary for the annual Stampede, which is arguably the biggest rodeo in the world.
Ryan fought bulls there 14 times during his career. Kelley ran barrels and all three boys started out riding steers in Calgary and all three have worked the featured event of bull riding. Jesse and Bo have fought bulls, while Tanner finished second behind J.B. Mauney last year and nearly took home the $100,000 payday.
In some ways, you could think of them as the first family of Calgary.
“This is what I’m most proud of,” Ryan said, “that they’ve dreamt this all their lives and now they’re actually living their dreams.”
Despite his own successful career as a bullfighter, like many parents, Ryan and Kelley were reluctant to see their boys pursue a lifelong career in the most dangerous sport in the world.
They knew the dangers involved.
In fact, according to Ryan, all three of his boys knew those dangers as well. They had spent enough time at enough events to know what could go wrong and consequences of those dangers.
That said, it’s one thing for Ryan to make that sacrifice and something entirely different – emotionally speaking – to see his sons take that risk.
Earlier this year, Ryan and Kelley were watching PBR LIVE online when they saw Tanner get caught up underneath a bull. Jesse’s reaction was to eventually lay on top of his brother to keep him from being stepped on any more than he already was.
Unfortunately, the wreck happened near the end of the broadcast and ended without any further medical updates on their son.
“It’s very hard at times,” Ryan recalled. “When you see them get hurt and the TV goes off, your heart drops. You just hope for the best. It’s like any parent, it’s a panic at the start and my wife was with me at the time – their mom Kelley – and she was panicking. We just had to settle down. We know that, yeah, the best doctor is here and that the best bullfighters and the best whatever there can be. There’s no better atmosphere and it’s as safe as it’s ever going to be right here.”
But it was tough.
A few emotional text messages, tweets and phone calls later and they were relieved.
Bo, who for the most part has remained up in Canada, is as good as Jesse when it comes to fighting bulls. However, if there’s one regret Ryan has it’s that he feels he held Bo back a bit longer than he did the younger two boys.
Even for Jesse and later Tanner, they both had to sneak off when it first came to trying out the sport they have since excelled at.
“I remember the first time I went to a bull riding,” Jesse said, “I had to tell him because I had a jacket that I had won. It was like, ‘Hey, I entered a bull riding, but on the positive side, I won it.’”
Tanner had been pleading to compete from the time he turned 12 and finally snuck off just before his 15th birthday.
“For me, it was going from the juniors to the bull riding because he knew that you had to let your bones develop,” Tanner explained. “You can’t start too young or you’re just going to wreck yourself. That’s one thing I have to thank him for because when I was like 12 I wanted to start getting on bulls.”
Tanner added, “I was pretty lucky in that I didn’t come into a new world and have to make friends. I didn’t have to meet new people. Everybody knew because of these guys, so they made my life pretty easy.”
All three boys had a lot of fun.
They enjoyed their freedom too.
Of course, there was an expectation that comes with being the sons of such an accomplished bullfighter.
It wasn’t that Ryan or Kelley put any undue pressure on their boys to succeed. They were just glad to see them pursue it with passion, but there was clearly an outside pressure from others wondering what the three boys were made of.
“To me, growing up he was, well, he still is my hero,” said Jesse, who benefitted greatly from life experiences as a boy and natural ability. “He’s the best bullfighter that ever came out of Canada and the things he’s accomplished on his own is what’s inspired me to strike out on my own and try to accomplish the things that I have and that I want.
“Yeah, with the family that I have, if I was going to be a bullfighter I thought I better be a damn good one.”
© 2014 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.