Bred to fight

Mexican Fighting Bulls a handful to keep down

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Dave O'Mailia raises Mexican Fighting Bulls for rodeo competitions, but even he was surprised by the tenacity of Sandman -- a buffalo headed, purebred bull he recently purchased.

"He's nuts. He'll come through a fence to get at you," O'Mailia said. "If he crawls it, you want a gun."

The 31-year-old O'Mailia was a bullfighter and rodeo clown for five years before getting into the bull raising business last year. He said he fought bulls, "for fun," but always wanted to raise these special bulls.

Now, as the owner of O'Mailia's Sage Creek Fighting Bulls, he is realizing his dream.

"You look for the blood-line you want, a combination of total aggressiveness and muscle mass," O'Mailia said. "You want the best fighting bull for your first bull. You're working on a reputation."

Building a reputation came quickly for O'Mailia and his wife, Kaley. The nine bulls they purchased their first year in business were well received from the Alamosa Round-up, to Cheyenne and Prineville, Oregon.

The sport of bullfighting is growing in popularity around the country, with help from the American Fighting Bull Association.

"It's getting huge at the rodeos," O'Mailia said. "It really brings in the crowds. They come just to see the wrecks."

It also keeps fans in the seats until the end of the rodeo.

Raising this type of bull is not for the timid, and it's a lot more work than O'Mailia expected.

"It was tough. I never imagined...It's like owning a 1,200 pound pit-bull," O'Mailia said. "They're the meanest things I ever saw. You'll be feeding them and they want to take you."

There are only six breeders in the United States that are allowed to go to Mexico and bring back bulls, O'Mailia said. There are currently four breeders in this country breeding their own stock, and O'Mailia hopes to become one eventually.

While a yearling may go for $1,200 to $2,000, the preferred, two to five-year-old, can fetch from $5,000 to $100,000, depending on bloodlines and reputations.

Their years of fighting are also limited, O'Mailia said, not because they get old, but because they get smarter.

"They learn the moves the bull-fighter is going to make, and they get dangerous," he said. "These bulls don't shut their eyes when they charge you. They always have a focus on you."

Bullfighters have 70 seconds in which to impress the judges with their moves. After 40 seconds, a buzzer sounds, and the fighter has the option to quit at that point if he feels he has made a good showing.

If he thinks he could have done better, the final 30 seconds are available for those brave enough to stay in the downsized arena with the bull they have drawn.

"The plan is to keep the attention of the bull," O'Mailia said. "Stay by the bull's head, and keep the dance going."

Two judges score the fight, with a 50/50 split of points awarded to the bull and the fighter. A total of 100 points is a perfect score.

"You want a good bull in your draw, because they're being scored too," O'Mailia said. "Fighters want a tough animal. A score in the 90's usually is guaranteed to be in the money."

O'Mailia said a good bullfighter is someone who has ridden and been around bulls a great deal. They need to be athletic and fast on their feet, he said.

Even raising the bulls takes a special kind of handler.

Darrin Floyd and Scott Shepherd, along with O'Mailia's father, Dave, all work the bulls to train and transport the animals.

"You need absolute calmness to work these bulls. No whistling, or yelling. They get excited easy," O'Mailia said. "You get one shot to work them, then there's barriers to hide behind."

Just transporting the bulls to a rodeo is a major undertaking. With help from Jim Warniki, Tom Brumback and Brian Gupton, they are loaded in trailers by running them in "like wild animals," O'Mailia said, and only in numbers that keep them comfortable.

The trailer has signs warning of "caution" and "extreme animals" on the side, and drivers don't stop unless they need to.

"They don't like to stop for long," O'Mailia said. "After about an hour, they start being hard on the trailer."

O'Mailia looks forward to getting some breeding cows this spring and expanding into the bull-breeding business, but right now he has his hands full just feeding Sandman.

"When he tries to crawl under a gate, he'll bend metal," O'Mailia said.

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