Buckle Up

By: Ruth Nicolaus

Abilene rodeo announces bullfighter as the feature on its 2023 buckle series

Ethan McDonald worked as a bullfighter at the Abilene rodeo from 2014-2018. The Abilene native is the feature on the 2023 Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo buckle. Photo by Fly Thomas.

Abilene, Kan. – An Abilene native will be honored with his likeness on the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo buckle.

Ethan McDonald, who grew up in Abilene and now lives in Paola, Kan., is the feature on this year’s rodeo buckle.

The son of John and Mary McDonald, the McDonald family returned to Abilene when Ethan was an eighth grader, after living in Colorado and Minneapolis, Kan. As a kid, Ethan and his family traveled with John, who transported bucking bulls to pro rodeos across the country.

But every year they’d be back for the Abilene rodeo. Ethan remembers those days. “Abilene, to me, was ‘that’ rodeo,” he said. “You’d see the big rodeo names, like (multiple-time world champions) Trevor Brazile, Matt Austin, Ty Murray, the who’s who of rodeo.”

John raised bucking bulls, and at practice sessions at the arena at their house, Ethan was called on as bullfighter. While in college at Ft. Hays (Kan.) State University, he helped with college rodeo practices. In college, he was encouraged to get his PRCA membership, which he did in 2011.

From 2011 to 2019, he worked as a bullfighter at rodeos across the nation, including the Abilene rodeo, from 2014-2018.

Ethan McDonald and his wife Madison and their children: daughter Landri and sons Calvin and Miles. McDonald was a bullfighter at the Abilene rodeo from 2014-2018. Photo courtesy of Ayla Johnson Photography

He loved it, especially when he worked in front of his hometown crowd in Abilene. “Being able to be part of it, I really enjoyed it. At first, I was the guy at the back of the chutes, watching, then I became part of the production.”

It was fun for him to showcase his bullfighting skills to his friends and family in Abilene. “A high school coach or teacher would come up to you and want to say hi, almost like you were a celebrity.”

Ethan retired from bullfighting in 2019, to spend more time with his wife, Madison, and their growing family, including daughter Landri, age six, and sons Calvin and Miles, ages 5 and 1 and ½.

He misses it. “I miss the adrenaline and the camaraderie,” he said.

He follows in his dad’s footsteps as a feature on the buckle; John is on the 2002 buckle.

He’s honored to appear on the 2023 buckle. “It’s cool, knowing you’re part of a niche group.”

The annual buckle auction for the rodeo will be held Sunday, July 30 at the Abilene Elks Club at 417 NW Fourth Street. Buckles numbered one through ten and number 500 will be auctioned off.

Social hour for the auction begins at 6 pm, with the auction to follow at 6:30 pm.

The rodeo takes place August 1-4 at 7:30 pm each night in Abilene at Eisenhower Park. For more information, visit

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