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We’ve all seen them, the men inside the barrels telling jokes between bull rides. They are clad in colorful clothing and makeup providing entertainment for the audience. But as the next rider enters the ring, a Barrelman’s job truly begins. Holding the handles inside the aluminum barrel, the Barrelman is ready at any moment to position the barrel accordingly between the bull and the rider, and is prepared to leave the barrel behind to get to the bullfighter in case there is a problem. This courageous position is not for the faint at heart, and we are proud to have one of the greats at the RNCFR this year.
Meet Keith Isley, our RNCFR Barrelman, who was nominated for both “Coors Man in a Can” and “Comedy Act of the Year” at the WNFR PRCA Awards Banquet. This North Carolina native grew up on a tobacco farm and has been around livestock his entire life. “I can deal with livestock better than I can people,” Isley says. At 14, he followed his brother into junior rodeo and began riding bulls and bucking horses for about two years. As time went on he was amazed by bullfighters and wanted to give it a try. Isley didn’t want to tell jokes, talk to crowds, or be funny. He said back then, that was just part of the act. At 16 he decided to quit riding bulls and bucking horses and stick with bullfighting.
But as Isley got older, he began to move away from bullfighting. “When you get older, they make the bulls faster,” he jokes. Joining the PRCA card as a barrelman in 1994, he saw the PRCA go from five rodeos in 1995 to about 600 today. Isley won his first award, “Specialty Act of the Year”, in 1999, and feels blessed to have received this award as well as his many other recognitions. Becoming a Barrelman has been a shift in mindset from bullfighting and riding. “Most bullfighters could not tell a joke if it was wrote on paper,” states Isley. He feels bullfighters are very athletic and bull savvy, while Barrelmen, on the other hand, tell jokes, are not as athletic, and get to wear goofy clothing and makeup. At age 58, Keith Isley thinks, “I don’t act 58, but I look older than 58.”
Now as a full-time Barrelman, Keith’s job is not only to entertain the audience but also to protect the bull riders. As a former bull rider and bullfighter, Isley knows firsthand how dangerous things can get. It’s his responsibility to move his 170-pound aluminum barrel at any time to any location to keep the rider and bullfighters safe. Padded on the inside and out, the barrel is designed to absorb the shock of a hit. But once inside, Isley never knows exactly where the hit will come from and how far it will throw the barrel. “Some people pay money to ride a ride like I take in the barrel,” Keith said.
As a Barrelman, Isley travels 200 days out of the year. The support of his family and wife make the time away a little easier. “If it wasn’t for my wife, I wouldn’t be where I am now. She was a trick rider at rodeos and she taught me to trick ride as well, which I did for years,” he says. This will be Keith’s first trip to Kissimmee for the RNCFR and he is excited for a new crowd and working a new rodeo!
See more at RNCFR.com