Montana cowboy Sylvan LaCross was awarded the coveted Bullfighter of the Year award by the Northern Rodeo Association (NRA) on October 11 in Butte.
By Sherry Vogel
For nearly a decade this 27-year-old polite, soft-spoken cowboy has been competing in rodeo on both the NRA and PRCA circuits. He began bareback riding while attending Red Lodge High School, graduating in 2006, but his love for the sport began long before then.
As a young boy growing up in Baker at just four years of age, family friend cowboy Gary Singer would let him come behind the chutes at the Fallon County Fair Rodeo. “He got me hooked,” quipped LaCross. While growing up he admired Plevna legend Lloyd Ketchum, former world champion bullfighter. No novice at bareback, LaCross enjoyed watching the bull riding event. He became intrigued with studying the situation “just before the wreck happens.” He began to evaluate the position of the enraged bull in regard to the bucked off cowboy. It led him to the revelation that he would like to try his hand at bullfighting.
Whatever LaCross is doing must be working because although he has had no formal training his mere desire, his time spent watching and evaluating, and “just learning from hard knocks” has paid out. Cha-Ching! It has paid out not only in honor but also in his billfold. The occupation of bullfighter earns a “guaranteed paycheck.” In this past year, from April to October, LaCross has fought in 30 rodeos. He has “double dipped” in 15 of them. This means he has competed in the bareback event as well as bullfighting in the same rodeo.
This year he will make a total transition focusing entirely on his bullfighting. He admitted, “It’s hard to fight ‘the itch’ to get on a bucking horse.”
As of late, LaCross has become acquainted with accomplished bullfighter Al Sandvold, of Bozeman. Sandvold is helping to fine-tune the younger cowboy’s skills. LaCross shared the most important lesson learned concerned his timing in the arena. “After clearing a situation out, I’ve learned to move a lot slower,” he said. “This gives the bull time to recognize me as a bigger threat than the downed bull rider.” If he moves too fast the bull perceives him as a passing intruder and still remains focused on the cowboy. At times, this gutsy fighter has actually laid his hand on the bull to get his attention. Consequently, LaCross has accumulated quite a rap sheet this season. The list includes being launched in the air, ran over, and stepped on.
This passionate bullfighter takes his job very seriously. His ultimate goal is to ensure that no cowboy is maimed or killed, but being a circuit rider himself he also wants to ensure that each rider remains uninjured “so that he will be able to get down the road, riding the circuit to his bigger goal of making National Finals in Las Vegas in December.”
When asked what his goals are he listed his short-term goals first. He wants to participate in the Binion Bucking Bull Sale in Las Vegas right before National Finals. He is also looking forward to having his own booth in the trade show. LaCross said, “This will help get my name out there. He will be handing out his cards and showing a promotional DVD of himself fighting in the arena. In January, LaCross will continue to make circuit finals in Great Falls.
In our conversation I had asked LaCross to share with me five attributes of the bullfighter. The five words he used to paint a bullfighter’s portrait were: tough, skilled, athletic, personable, and selfless. Glancing up from my notes, I realized his face reflected that very description.
LaCross, a fifth-generation native of Baker, is the son of Lon and Monica LaCross of Baker and the late Patricia LaCross.