ProFile: Lerin Thomas
story by Skylar Wright Lerin Thomas, 21, has her eyes set on the bright lights of Las Vegas to sing the National Anthem during the […]
Justin Rumford Discusses The Evolution Of A Rodeo Clown
“Someone told me that rodeo clowns are just cowboys that can’t make it competing. I love being a rodeo clown. It’s my dream job! I win every performance.”
Justin Rumford is a third generation rodeo cowboy. He’s tried many positions in rodeo and finds the one that he enjoys the most – Barrelman & Funnyman.
Justin grew up in Abbyville, Kansas, in a family that put on rodeos – Rumford Rodeo Company. His grandfather started it, and his father followed in it. Today the company is run by his sister, Haley, and her family, under the name Bridwell ProRodeo, out of Red Bluff, California.
Justin rode saddle broncs and steer wrestled and qualified for the High School Finals in both events. He also went to the NIRA Finals, in both events, when he received a rodeo scholarship for Northwestern Oklahoma State University. He graduated with a degree in Agriculture and Business Finance in 2004.
Justin was inspired by Lance Brittain, a PRCA bullfighter, and went to Rex Dunn’s Bullfighting School. He fought bulls, starting in his Senior year of high school, but a bullfighting accident in 2001 at Denver, that punctured his colon made him decide bullfighting was not for him.
He hit the rodeo road hard after college trying to qualify for the PRCA National Finals. He concentrated on his steer wrestling career. He had a friend, Shane Henderson, who bankrolled him for awhile. Justin was riding other people’s horses in steer wrestling, so when he did win money, 25% went to the horse owner. Entry fees were costly. He remembered, “I got to North Platte (NE) and I had $34 in my pocket. I decided I couldn’t go on. I was done!”
Benny Beutler, of Beutler and Son Rodeo, asked Justin why he was so frustrated. When Justin told him about his dilemma Benny offered him a job. “Come work for me and you can still compete.” Justin began driving trucks, hauling horses, for Beutler and Son Rodeo. “I always loved bucking horses and so working for Benny and hauling his horses was a perfect fit for me. I continued to bulldog and I started winning – Phillipsburg (KS), Loveland (CO), and Burwell (NE). In no time I had won $15,000 and I was still working for Benny.”
The Pretty Prairie, (KS) barrelman got word his father had just had a stroke and had to leave the rodeo. Suddenly the rodeo had no barrelman. Someone suggested Justin, to stand in for him, because he was always behind the chutes joking with everyone. Justin agreed and said, “I had fun with the audience – and I got a good check.” Mike Greenleaf, a Kansas amateur stockman, encouraged Justin to become a funnyman. He thought about it and decided to try it. That was 2011.
“ Cervi Rodeo Company offered me 10 rodeos, without even seeing me perform,” Justin said. He also informed other PRCA stock contractors. Justin’s first full year of clowning he had 100 performances and was voted PRCA Clown of the Year.
Lecile Harris, PRCA funnyman, signed Justin’s PRCA card, along with Rob Smets, former bullfighter, and Bob Tallman, rodeo announcer. Justin asked Flint Rasmussen, former rodeo clown, for advice about the profession. Flint’s answer was, “Justin, the best prop you have is the one you put under your hat.” Meaning Justin’s own mind.
His acts were varied. At first he hauled two bucking horses he owned. Justin would harass the bronc riders, until the announcer, would ask him, “Do you think you can do any better?” He was challenged. When Justin rode a bucking horse he always got laughs. When asked if he rode them backwards or did something funny like the clowns did many years ago? Justin said, “No, just a fat dude on a bucking horse was all it took to get laughs.” He also named his Spiderman act, his Gorilla act, and several more acts. He has received the PRCA Clown of the Year honor a total of ten times since becoming a rodeo clown/barrelman.
Justin explained that rodeo has changed so much it’s harder to entertain. He said that former bullfighter/rodeo clown, Ted Kimzey, was his very favorite when he was growing up. When asked why, he said because Ted’s acts were great, and his barrelman toughness. “People don’t realize how hard the knocks are for ‘the man in the can’ when the bull hits the barrel. Ted took some real hard knocks,” explained Justin.
He described the ‘good old days’ the older rodeo fans remember, “A rodeo clown had 10 to 15 minutes to perform an act a couple of times during the rodeo.” And he was right. The rodeo clown also jumped in when a cowboy had to be revived or when something needed to be repaired and entertained the fans. He wandered through the bleachers.
Justin continued to explain, “Today’s rodeo requires an act to be minimized to maybe 3 ½ minutes. I love the older generation, which I respect so much. But in today’s rodeo our responsibilities for entertaining are very different.” He said a daily production meeting before each performance may be pages and pages long, going over the events, and actions by each person that works on the rodeo, whether they are in the arena, in the announcer booth, working the chutes or behind the scenes. Each person’s actions must be accounted for, sometimes down to the minute.”
He explained: “We are paid to do a job. We do what we are asked to do.” He gave an example of what is required. “A PRCA rodeo is required to have one or more ambulance on the grounds with the proper medical team available. If it should happen that the amblance has to leave the grounds, the rodeo is to STOP until the proper medical people can either return or be replaced. I was at a rodeo which had two ambulances, and both had injured guys and had to leave the rodeo grounds. I wear an ear piece that production people can tell me when I need to urgently do something to keep the rodeo going. I jumped into the arena, yelling “Stop the Rodeo” but not to alarm the audience I started joking to keep the audience involved. Once the ambulance returned to the grounds, I got word, through my ear piece, to finish my banter and the rodeo went on.
“A few days later,” said Justin, “ I was told the rodeo company got a scathing letter saying: ‘ The rodeo clown that came in to the arena and stopped the tie down roping, just when Tuf Cooper, a World Champion, was just about to rope his calf. How thoughtless was that rodeo clown to do such a thing. What was the rodeo thinking!!’ I was compelled to contact the person who had sent the letter and explain what the PRCA rules are about the medical team being at the rodeo, and why I did it. Her response was ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ ”
Justin went on to explain that because professional rodeo is on television daily, and he worked Denver, Rapid City, San Antonio, and Austin with very few days in between performances he has been on television so much recently. “I have to stay current on what is happening in the world, and what is happening in the community where the rodeo is being held. I do talk a lot about what I learn from current happenings, and I usually throw in fun facts about the city we are in.” You can tell Justin enjoys interacting with the audience, and they it’s obvious the fans have a lot of fun with him.
His rodeo clown heroes from the past, before we had so much television coverage, were only seen when a person went to a rodeo. Today, with the Cowboy Channel playing 750 rodeos a year, he is sometimes on the television screen almost daily. That requires a great deal of variation and patter that the spectators and audience enjoys. It seems to be working very well for Justin. He was quick to say, “We have to adapt or we go away.”
Justin admits most all the rodeo clowns and bullfighters are good friends, and truly band together. They help one another out when ever necessary and enjoy communicating wherever they happen to be. They all have smart phones and it’s easy to keep up with one another, no matter where they are performing.
Justin is a family man. He met Ashley Van Hoesen, at a rodeo. She was Miss Rodeo Oklahoma in 2005. They dated for two years and married in 2007. She graduated with honors in Business from Oklahoma University. She was a registered nurse but put nursing on hold to be able to travel with Justin. She became an integral part of the rodeo business, taking care of all the business end of rodeo. He says Ashley loves rodeo just as much as he does.
In 2013 they were blessed with triplets. Two girls and a boy, named Livi, Lola (after Justin’s grandmother) and Bandy (after Justin’s best friend, Bandy Boswell). The family travels in their RV with Justin, unless school gets in the way. It is evident the family is most important to Justin and often if they aren’t able to travel he’ll slip home, to Ponca City, OK, when he can.
Justin has been picked as the PRCA Clown of the Year ten different years. He has been the Coors Man in the Can three years. He was the PRCA Comedy Act of the Year in 2018. In 2014 he was the barrelman for the PRCA National Finals.
Now during the National Finals he hosts the “Rodeo Vegas” after-rodeo party at the Mirage Hotel & Casino every night. During the day at the Convention Center where the largest Trade Show is held, he has “Rump Chat Live”, on a stage where he and “Hambone” Hilton, rodeo music director, interview cowboys and cowgirls as well as other prominent people. Justin says they have 1.8 million downloads with 138 interviewing episodes. Additionally, Ashley researches and recommends purchasing commercial real estate for a group of six rodeo cowboys as investments – 5 bullfighters/rodeo clowns, and one announcer.
Justin is living his dream job. He enjoys everything he does. His family is totally behind him. The fans are, too. Flint Rasmussen’s advice,”The best prop he has, to be a rodeo clown, is what he puts under his hat – his mind. Justin understands his audience and realizes and accepts the changes that are happening in the world of rodeo. And as Justin says, “If we don’t adapt we go away.” Justin doesn’t plan to go away any time soon.
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