In addition to the Back on Track B.C. Little Britches Rodeo Report, Back on Track has teamed up with bullfighter Monty Phillips. Phillips tells the beginning of his bullfighting story here on Everything Cowboy with more stories to come from throughout his unique career.
I was 15 years old the first time I stepped into the arena to do something I had dreamed of since I could walk. But let me tell you how I gained this addiction to fighting bulls in the rodeo and bull riding world.
My parents both were involved in rodeo, my mother Sheila Phillips barrel raced in the Prairie Indian Rodeo Association in Saskatchewan and then quit barrel racing to become one of the most decorated rodeo timer/secretaries in the Manitoba Rodeo Cowboys Association (MRCA), Canadian Cowboys Association (CCA) and eventually gained her membership in the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA). She was also honoured with the Cowgirl of the Year Award in the CCA in 2010. My father Bill Phillips found himself working for the Legendary Barry Quam out of Montmartre, Saskatchewan at his ranch and at the Pro Rodeos the Quam family produced. He got on bareback horses and bulls but that career wasn’t for him.
After my parents were married, I came along August 5th, 1988. From that day on it was rodeo, trucks and sand piles. From what I was told, I was adventurous and fearless as a child. I would disappear often by myself finding the closest place to play in the sand that was beside the bull pens. I don’t ever remember having favourite bull riders, just bulls and bullfighters. They seemed to always have my attention. My heroes growing up soon became bullfighters and barrel men.
I was extremely fortunate to have grown up at rodeos watching some of the best bullfighters Canada has ever produced. I remember often having a death grip on the fence as I stopped setting flanks to watch Scott Byrne and Raymond Goodman fight bulls together. What they did fascinated me greatly, doing everything they could to keep bull riders safe and the teamwork pulling bulls off of each other. If you were to ask them who met them at the gate after each performance at any rodeos produced by Prime Time Rodeo or Royal Rodeo they will most likely tell you it was me. I was ridiculously small as a child but never did I let that stop me from doing anything I wanted to do.
I hung out with Lee Bellows and Ash Cooper in the dressing room making me laugh and listening to their thoughts on the performance each day. I spent a lot of my time with adults or by myself when I was young. I started leaving home when I was 13 to work on ranches and working at rodeos on the weekends. I would leave the last day of school and come back home a few days before summer holidays ended.
I was always told I had to work hard for what I wanted in life. I learned so much from so many knowledgeable adults. When I was 13 I started riding horses a lot and started team roping. I then started going to colt training clinics to learn more about the base of horses and how to make myself and them perform better. In grade eight I knew I wanted to be a bullfighter and a cowboy, for life.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I couldn’t ride community or PFRA Pasture without graduating with a high school education I would not have graduated. So finally in grade 9, I started to grow, not a lot, but I was 5’0″ tall and my mother gave in and let me fight bulls. Jim Lawrence of Prime Time Rodeo gave me my first chance to fight bulls at his rodeos with a guy named Rick Hodgson that taught me so much at the beginning of my career. From there I went on to fight CCA, MRCA, and High School Rodeos in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I hadn’t been fully carded so I was team roping at rodeos more than I was fighting bulls.
I would make a run in the team roping then jump off my horse and quickly get changed to go and fight the bull riding before heading to the next rodeo to rope. It was chaotic but my passion was to fight bulls so it didn’t matter to me it just had to be done. I was determined to get better every time I stepped into the arena. And over time I became fully carded in both associations and got to fight my first finals in the MRCA and CCA the same year, in 2009.
The next year I sent in an application to go to Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alberta. When I got to college I met a ton of new people I had seen on TV or had heard of. I got to fight practice pens for guys like Aaron Roy, Zane Lambert, Nathan Roy, Denton Edge and many others. Contractors were Ellie Skori and Justin Volz, who was riding still but had just got shoulder surgery, and the rodeo coach at the time Jim Lightheiser also had bulls there. I began my Alberta bullfighting career in the Lakeland Rodeo Association and went on to fight the LRA Finals in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
I found myself more comfortable in the Alberta scene. Being in the home province of the CPRA, the talk of making the transition from amateur to professional was always in the air. I continued to go to schools until the clinician who was my childhood hero Scott Byrne told me I didn’t need to come to his school anymore. It was time to just start looking for jobs and get fighting bulls. I was always hurt inside after all three years I went to that school and never got a buckle. All that did was fuel a fire that was already burning inside me. Soon I set my sights on getting my full card in the CPRA.
In 2010 I got my CPRA permit and in 2013 I could officially call myself a Professional Bullfighter. When I got that card in the mail, I stared at it for a long time.
Stay tuned for more with Monty Phillips and Back on Track.