“He’s the life of the party.”
Perhaps, one should say every rodeo becomes a party when Donnie Landis is around.
“There’s never a dull moment anytime I’m at your rodeo or bull riding event,” assured Landis.
“Call me a funnyman, bullfighter, entertainer, or whatever you want, but most simply, really I’m a rodeo clown. I’m the fourth generation of my family involved in rodeo, it’s all I’ve ever known, all I’ve ever done, and all I really ever want to do,” contended Landis, who’ll be keeping spectators on the edge of their bleacher seats during the Flint Hills Bull Blowout Saturday night, Sept. 12, at Strong City.
“I grew up going to rodeos. My great granddad was a pickup man, my grandpa rode bucking horses, and my dad did it all,” Landis said. “Dad rode all rough stock, raised bulls, and was a rodeo producer, a rodeo clown and a bull fighter. He helped form the California Cowboys Association, now known as the California Cowboys Professional Association. Mom was a rodeo secretary for many years, actually had many other jobs involved with rodeo.
“I’ve done some other things, but rodeo’s been my life, and that’s what I do. I just came about the sport naturally,” explained Landis, now headquartering out of Gooding, Idaho, although he’s not there much.
Actually tracking him down isn’t an easy chore. “I work rodeos throughout the country. I have more than 50 performances contracted for this year,” said Landis, 55.
“I’m the old man in the profession now. I work with the kids in the sport, because most of the bullfighters, even barrel men and clowns have retired by the time they’re my age,” he added.
Two times serving as the barrel man at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vega, Landis has worked the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo twice, and the biggest rodeos in the world including the Calgary Stampede in Canada and the Houston Livestock Show at the Astrodome.
“One of my fondest memories was at Pendleton (Washington) when Teddy Nuce won the bull riding,” Landis reflected.
“The first time I was in a rodeo arena was when I was four-years-old, helping my dad do his clown acts,” Landis said.
His personal clowning career began when Landis was 12-years-old, and he contracted his first Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event at 18, in Reno, Nevada.
“Of course, I wanted to be a cowboy, and I competed in the rough stock events, but I’d always been attracted to the clowns. There is always a check at the end of the day, too, and I’ve liked that,” Landis admitted.
Other aspects of the sport have come to Landis as he became the first miniature bucking bull contractor, in the business for more than a decade, while raising his family, and supplementing his endeavors as a truck driver.
“In 2008, I had been come the full circle. I weighed 240 pounds, and had enough I wanted to get my life back, so I read a few health books, started riding a bike and going to the gym, and now I have created a middle aged, many would say old, rodeo monster,” Landis said.
. “I keep the flow of the shows going. If a bull jumps in a chute, or they need time to reload, I entertain the crowd. That’s my deal. Once the latch opens, the gate cracks, the bull comes out, it’s Game Time. It’s real serious for eight or nine seconds,” Landis contended.
A typical business day for Landis includes getting Mario, his trained flea, to jump from a high dive into a bucket of water, cantering his rare, wild “cantabeatalope” across a rodeo arena, while the steed’s giraffe-like neck swivels around to give him a 360 degree vision, and setting his over-sized “mousetrap” in hopes of catching a Brahma bull during the rodeo bull riding.
“I take my business seriously as if I was a bank president or a school teacher. It does take planning to get my acts and the props in working orders,” said Landis, still known for old-time clown getup always featuring a big red nose and grease paint.
“I generally wear baggy suspendered jeans and a wild shirt and scarf, but my getup does change depending on the show,” he admitted.
“I was lucky. Because of my dad, I learned from the ‘old school’ where a rodeo clown had to do everything – fight bulls, have comedy acts, entertain, work the barrel and most importantly save lives,” Landis said.
A barrel man’s duty is to entertain the crowd during the “down time” that is inherent to the sport of bull riding, clarified Landis, who works with a big open-ended padded clown barrel.
“The barrel not only protects me from a charging bull, but also provides a bull rider with an island of safety if he is bucked off far from the arena fence or bucking chutes,” Landis continued.
“The mission of every bullfighter and barrel man is to divert the bull’s attention away from the exiting rider by whatever means possible. It may look like the best seat for close up action, but the barrel with me inside often ends up in the path of an incoming bull pushed there by the bullfighter in an effort to provide escape time for a downed or injured rider,” Landis said.
During the bull riding, his serious attitude only intensifies. “Despite all of this other action and entertainment for the crowd, my main purpose there to assist in keeping the bucking bulls from injuring the cowboys,” Landis insisted.
Bulls and cowboys attempting to ride them, with mutton busting and chicken scramble for the young tikes, are supposed the featured attractions for the Flint Hills Bull Blowout Saturday evening, Sept. 12, but Donnie Landis might actually steal the show, according to event coordinator Kim Reyer of Reyer’s Country Store and Flint Hills Genetics, bucking bull breeding program.
“I love being a cowboy clown. I’m not in a dream world chasing a dream. I’m in the real world dealing with reality. I’m a fourth generation cowboy, and I believe,” Landis concluded.