Episode 3: American Bullfighter

Texas native Clint Hopping has been working the bullfighting ring for nearly a decade. When the full-time ranch hand and rodeo cowboy isn’t busy fighting off 1,700-pound bulls in front of an audience, he works as a bullfighting instructor for Sankey Rodeo Schools. Hopping also continues to compete in rodeo events of bull riding, saddle bronco riding and bare back riding. He is a part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association.

How did you get involved in bullfighting?
Hopping: I was kind of born into it because my dad did it when I was younger. When I saw a bullfighter, I thought it looked like something I could do. I attended a school similar to what we put Richard through in the show. I trained for six-to-eight hours a day for three days while attending school, and we went over the fundamentals, like the wheelbarrow. And we did get in the ring with real bulls. I got banged up, but I enjoyed it.

What would you say is the biggest challenge in your profession?
Hopping: Controlling your emotions. Rodeo is a lot like baseball; Mickey Mantle said it’s 90 percent mental and the rest is in your head. When you execute the basic fundamentals, they work, but you have to have the mentality behind it. There is a certain level of physical ability that you have to have in bullfighting, like speed and agility, but it really is just all emotion. When you can get control of your mind and your mind can get control of your body, you can do great things.

What kind of protective gear do you wear when you’re inside the arena?
Hopping: I wear hip pads that are similar to football pads. I also have a chest and back protector, which is similar to a bullet-proof vest and it’s just a hard plastic. My cowboy hat acts somewhat like a helmet.

What is the biggest blunder that you or a fellow bullfighter has ever experienced on the job?
Hopping: There was a time where a partner and I were fighting a bull and a second bull accidentally got out, so we had to fight two bulls at once. We both made it out just fine, but we definitely had our adrenaline going. For a moment, it was pretty scary.

What was it like working with Richard Hammond?
Hopping: He’s really a great guy! Even when we were off to the side and not filming, he’d be real with us, like friends.

What did you learn from your experience with Richard? Do you have a favorite moment?
Hopping: It’s fun for me to teach new guys because I’m reminded of the fundamentals. Richard had no knowledge of rodeo and it was great to see him not pretend like he did. It just opened my eyes to know that I needed to put everything in layman’s terms because I wanted him to understand what he’s getting himself into. When he first saw the bull and it came at him a little bit, his eyes got big as basketballs. It was scary for him for a moment, but the relief on his face was just hilarious.

Episode 3: American Bullfighter