It was a rowdy kickoff to the Dodge City Roundup as the Xtreme Bull Riders displayed skill and prowess as they straddled bucking beasts with such names as Psychopath and Dark Moment. The first competition of many to come in this 6-day event, it wouldn't have been complete, or even remotely safe, without the presence of the oft forgotten bull fighters.

"The most gratifying part of this job is helping our friends, so that they can get to the fence safely," said Nate Jestes, 29, Douglas, Wyo. Jestes was one of three bull-fighters selected by bullriders for the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), an honor that he calls the "Super Bowl of Rodeo and the highest recognition you can achieve as a bull-fighter."

Though unlike many bull-fighters, his foray into the world of protecting riders from 2,000 pounds of heaving aggression happened unintentionally.

"I never grew up around rodeo," he said. Instead, he played lacrosse and football in high school and was even awarded a Division I scholarship for lacrosse. However, he opted instead to earn an aviation degree from Montana State University. Eventually, he began working part-time for a man who was a professional bull-fighter. Jestes was immediately intrigued and irrevocably hooked — and, he was a natural. Only one-and-a-half years passed from the time he engaged in his first bull-fight to the time he received his pro card.

"It’s what I was meant to do," he said.

Wacy Munsell, 30, Ulysses, Kan., however, was a prodigy from the beginning. A third-generation bull-fighter, Munsell knew from a formative age the trajectory of his path.

"Even as a little guy he watched Wrangler bull-fighting tapes," said Doug Munsell, Jr., Wacy's father and fellow bull-fighter. "He could tell if they got hooked and why they got hooked."

The first rodeo Wacy ever attended was at 2 months of age bedecked in a clown suit to match his father's. At the age of 5, he made his Dodge City Roundup debut in the mutton-busting contest and went on to attend the Rex Dunn Bull-Fighting School. He's been bull-fighting ever since. Though he does compete in the PRCA's (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) bull-fighting circuit, his main priority is protecting bull-riders.

His dedication is such that he fought for several months with a broken fibula. In addition, he’s had 2 broken noses, and hand and shoulder surgery. With a small smile he insists that the number of injuries is low and he works hard to keep it that way. "I’m good at what I do."

But, neither the threat of injury or even death can keep bull-fighters from doing what many claim they were born to do.

Ted Kimzey, 64, Strong City, Okla., was yet another accidental recruit into the world of bull-fighting. "I was too lazy to work and too lazy to steal," he laughs. In actuality, he had dreams of going to the NFR like many of his constituents, but his skill as a bull-fighter surpassed his skill as a bareback rider.

Kimzey retired some time ago, but he still attends rodeos to watch his son, Sage Kimzey, 2-time PRCA World Champion. As well, he enjoys reminiscing about the days of old.

"When you are in that arena and you know you helped a guy — that’s huge. It’s that feeling in your heart," he said.

Like other bull-fighters who do it for the gratification of helping bull-riders, he also admits that no other thrill like it exists.

"It is one of the hugest adrenaline rushes that a person will ever experience," he said.

To contact the writer email eburke@dodgeglobe.com.