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Dodging Bulls and Living the Rodeo Dream

Red Bluff man is bullfighter at Round-Up

Dodging Bulls and Living the Rodeo Dream

Bullfighter and Red Bluff resident Eric Layton (in the blue, at the bull’s head) distracts a bull, at the 2013 Red Bluff Round-Up, allowing the rider to get away unharmed. The Lakeport native has been working the Round-Up for nine years. Photo by Hubbell Photography

Red Bluff, Calif. (April 4, 2016) – If it wasn’t for Lane Frost and the movie “8 Seconds,” Eric Layton might be trimming trees instead of dodging bulls.

But the Red Bluff man can thank the bull riding movie for his career.

Layton has been one of the two bullfighters at the Red Bluff Round-Up for the past nine years, and it all started when he saw the movie as a kid.

He grew up in Lakeport in a family that had horses but wasn’t involved in rodeo, although his mom Susan was a former Lake County Rodeo Queen. It was assumed that he’d follow in his dad Alan’s footsteps, trimming trees and working for the county.

But, no. After the “8 Seconds” craze hit, Eric, who had already been interested in rodeo, became even more interested. He talked his mom and dad into letting him compete in high school rodeo as a bull rider, and the die was cast.

After graduating from Lakeport High in 2002, he attended West Hills Community College in Coalinga. He had already transitioned from riding bulls to fighting bulls. The term “bullfighter” in the U.S. is a misnomer; rodeo bullfighters don’t “fight” bulls like what is done in Spain. Their job is to distract the bull after each ride, so the rider can scramble to safety and leave the rodeo uninjured.

In college, Eric had stepped in as bullfighter in the practice pen, and realized “I had a knack for it,” he said. He worked for an amateur rodeo company in Fortuna for two years, when fate stepped in again. John Growney, owner of Growney Rodeo Co., called him. Would he like to pro rodeo? So Eric got his Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) card and moved to Red Bluff. Growney’s two bullfighters, Joe Baumgartner and Shorty Gorham, had moved on and were working PBR events, so Eric became one of Growney’s bullfighters.

That was in 2006, and since then, he has worked some of the biggest rodeos not only on the West Coast but in the nation. In addition to Red Bluff, he works Salinas, Calif., and Reno and Logandale, Nev. He also works the rodeos in Clovis, Stoneyford, Sonora, Redding, Livermore, Santa Barbara, and San Dimas, Calif.; Canby, Ore.; and Bremerton and Puyallup, Wash.

He loves his job. Eric doesn’t claim to be an adrenaline junkie, but with a 1,200 lb. bull headed at him, he might be. He loves to make good saves, and he loves it when bull riders become friends. After more than a dozen years in the business, he likes seeing his friends’ careers progress. “I like watching kids develop, and some of them into world champions,” he said. “I’m 32,” he said, “and at one point all the guys were my age. Now, I’m older and they’re twenty years old, and it’s fun to watch young kids give their heart and soul to ride well and win money.”

He loves the travel as well. Eric estimates he only travels about 12,000 miles a year, not many for a rodeo contractor, but it’s partly because in August, in-between his rodeos in Oregon and Washington, he stays there instead of coming home each week. He’s proud of the prestigious and good rodeos he works. “I probably have as good a run of rodeos as a lot of bullfighters,” he said.

In the off season, he works for Growney, Tim Bridwell (who owns bucking horses), and Kish Rodeo Co.. There’s always something to do, whether it’s getting trucks and equipment worked on, working bulls, bucking colts, or moving livestock. He often works for his fiancee’s parents, building fence or taking care of cattle.

Eric is engaged to Katie Barr, who has a nine-year-old son, Preston. Preston has caught the rodeo bug. “He is in love with rodeo clowns,” Eric said. “He thinks he wants to be a rodeo clown.”

Next week, Eric will step into the arena for the Round-Up in front of his hometown crowd. He’ll strap on his cleats, ready his mind, greet his bull riding friends, and listen for the roar of the crowd.

And he’ll be doing what he loves.

The Red Bluff Round-Up takes place next weekend, April 15-17. Tickets are available on the rodeo’s website (RedBluffRoundup.com), at the Round-Up office, and at the gate. They range in price from $14 to $26. For more information, call the Round-Up office at 530.527.1000, visit the website at RedBluffRoundup.com, or find the event on Facebook and Twitter.