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Q&A with Shorty Gorham, bullfighter with PBR World Finals

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Professional bullfighter Shorty Gorham in action.

Shorty Gorham gladly puts himself in positions most people spend their entire lives trying to avoid. When you see a rider fall from a bull during a rodeo and get dragged or trampled, Gorham is the guy distracting the bull long enough for said rider to climb to safety.

He’ll be plying his trade this week at the PBR World Finals at the Thomas & Mack Center from October 26-30. The Weekly caught up with Gorham en route to his latest gig—he’s on the road a lot—to talk about a life built on adrenaline.

Do you have to be a little crazy to do this? You don’t have to be, but it helps. (Laughs) No, not at all. It’s actually quite the opposite. You have to have ice water in your veins, but be real calm. If you panic out there, bad things are going to happen. To be good at it, you can’t have a way out of the wreck and then enter it, because your body won’t let you go. You have to get in the wreck and then figure out how the hell you’re going to get out of it. The bull is going to take you where he wants you to go. But at the same time you’re trying to take him where you want to go.

Shorty Gorham so wanted to be a professional bullfighter that, as a child, he'd have his friends chase him around with a wheelbarrow.

What types of injuries have you sustained? Broke my shoulder, blew out my knee, broke a leg and an ankle, broke ribs, broke arms, separated both shoulders and separated my sternum … but it’s part of the deal. None of them are serious injuries. It’s just a part of it. You gotta know that going in that there’s going to be some broke bones.

What’s the longest you’ve been out of commission? I think a month. Bullfighters aren’t really good listening to the doctors. (Laughs) If we don’t work, we don’t get paid, and if you can tape it up and go on, well, then go on. That’s usually what we end up doing. As Frank Newsom, probably the best bullfighter there is now, always says, “It’ll stop hurting when the pain goes away. Pain is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

How does someone get this job? A lot of blood, sweat and tears, man. The great thing is that the top 40 bullriders vote on us to be there to save their lives. Some bullfighters try to take shorter routes and use politics, but it never works because you’re talking about the lives of human beings.

Where did you get started? My childhood idol left home to become a bullfighter when I was 5 years old. I decided right then I was going to be one too. Whenever we had to write a story in school, mine were always about bullfighting. We had a neighbor who was a rodeo secretary. Every time I had a free weekend she’d take me to the rodeo and I’d hang out with bullfighters all weekend and watch what they did. I’d come home and make friends chase me around with a wheelbarrow and pretend it’s a bull.

So when did your big break come? I was 14, and we were at a practice pen; nobody was there. And the guy who owned the place let me work some bulls and it went real well. Later on, I was helping him at a rodeo where the bullfighter didn’t show up, and that was my first job. I’ve been doing it now for 18 years.

What was the hairiest experience you’ve ever been in? I don’t know, because we have to train ourselves not to think about that kind of stuff until afterwards. You might look back afterwards, but it’s already lost its effect. During it you can’t be thinking like that or you’re going to sell out.

How many times a night are you saving someone? We might go a couple weeks without doing it, then one night where five or six guys will need our help. But we’re very focused while we’re out there. Calm, but intense. We’re like the Secret Service guys. If things are going well you don’t notice us, but when things go bad, we’re there.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever gotten from a rider? Just a thanks, you know. Bullfighters or cowboys or riders aren’t real emotional people anyways. Just a thanks is pretty much all you’ll ever get. We don’t even expect that. They might buy you a beer that night at dinner.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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