The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Have you Herd? The HOT Fair and Rodeo is in Town

Stories of a Rodeo Clown and Professional Cowgirl

7 months ago

By Avery Ballmann

Ever seen a rodeo clown backflip over a charging bull? Or perhaps you’ve heard the story of the professional cowgirl who recently was featured on the television show “The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown”? For 10 years, “Backflip” Johnny Dudley has been the face of entertainment for the Heart O’ Texas Rodeo as the rodeo clown. Brianna Markum has been a fierce competitor in team roping across the state and is competing in the Las Vegas National Finals Rodeo in November. These two individuals are an integral part of what makes the rodeo so spectacular, and they will be in attendance at our very own HOT Fair and Rodeo October 5–15 at the Extraco Events Center.

The HOT Fair and Rodeo is hosting the rodeo every night at 7 p.m., featuring events such as mutton bustin’, barrel racing, bull riding, team roping, the calf scramble and more. Amongst the dust of the rodeo floor, you’ll see a bright candy apple red felt hat; that’s where you’ll find Dudley. “Backflip” Dudley gets his nickname for his iconic backflips off of barrels, railings and bulls. His party trick isn’t the only unusual aspect of Dudley’s career, it’s how he got into the business.

When Dudley was on base in South Carolina for the Marine Corps, they brought a traveling rodeo to boost morale. Dudley went to the rodeo and instantly locked in on the rodeo clown. When Dudley came back to Texas, he became a professional rodeo clown and is still doing it 20 years later. Half of his career has been with HOT Fair and Rodeo, in which he compared their relationship to be like a “family reunion”.

“Let’s say that kid was 10 years old, and I took a picture with him or her and now that kid is 20 years old, and I’m taking pictures with their kids,” Dudley said. “I’ve watched so many kids grow up there.”

When Dudley isn’t cracking jokes or taking pictures, he is in a barrel with holes cut out for his legs and head and is protecting the bull rider and bullfighters. As the bull whips and lashes out of the gate, the bullfighters are guarding the rider. Dudley is the island of safety for the fighters in case they need to be saved. Dudley can shuffle around the ring and plop anywhere for the bullfighters to hide behind. This job has more risk than most and Dudley has informed me he gets hit by a bull every week.

Dudley isn’t the only one who risks his safety. When Markum competed on “The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown” in season three, she was eliminated for a gruesome hand injury. Though she was sent home, she has since made her return to season four of “The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown, All Stars,” streaming now on Peacock.

“I take [the show] as a really huge opportunity not only for little girls, but for little kids that want to get interested in this industry and take them under my wing,” Markum said.

Markum hosts roping clinics and witnesses kids get on their horse for the first time. Markum, however, has lived and breathed the rodeo her entire life, winning her first buckle at just 6 years old. She is from a fourth-generation rodeo family and competes professionally in rodeos around the state. Her specialty, team roping.

Team roping is a two-person sport with the goal of roping the steer’s head and feet with each horse facing one another before the timer goes off. At every competition the steer is brand new to the competitors, but what isn’t foreign to Markum is her horse Sheba, often referred to as ‘Shebs’.

“Me and her have quite the relationship,” Markum said. “I tell people that I know what she’s gonna do before she does it and she knows what I’m gonna do before I do it. We’re very, very in sync with each other.”

Markum has trained Shebs since she was 3 years old and affectionately calls her with a high-pitched whistle and a few rattles from the feed bucket. Markum said you can tell when a horse knows what they are doing and likes what they’re doing and that Shebs genuinely loves her job.

Markum wants her and Shebs’ love of rodeo to transfer to the next generation of cowboys and cowgirls.

“It’s really important that we take that leap to try to get people more involved in this industry and keep people involved in the rodeo,” Markum said. “I mean, it is America’s heritage.”

The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, PRCA, is facilitating HOT’s rodeo this year. Because PRCA does not have a women’s division in team roping, Markum will not be competing. In a field dominated by men, Markum has made strides to represent aspiring and current cowgirls.

“Women are in this industry and it’s showing full force that we’re coming. We’re just as talented as the guys and team roping, and roping in general,” Markum said. “I think that in the next couple of years, there’s going to be several changes that are going to be made in that direction.”

Though Markum will not be competing, she will be paying a visit to singer and host of “The Ultimate Cowboy Showdown,” Trace Adkins. You may also find her in line for a funnel cake or turkey leg.

As for Dudley, you’ll find him in The Coliseum at 4601 Bosque Blvd; just look for the face paint and bright red cowboy hat. For more information about the HOT Fair and Rodeo schedule, download their app or visit their website for updates.

“The coolest thing about rodeo is I don’t know anybody in the stands. Everybody has some kind of problem that they’re probably dealing with,” Dudley said. “But the one thing that I can do if I can just get their attention for the two hours and let them have fun.”