The only difference between Justin Rumford and a stand-up comedian, is that he’s doing his job from the middle of a rodeo arena instead of a stage with a spotlight. Rumford, who lives in Ponca City, Okla., is a rodeo clown at events from coast to coast. His job during the rodeo is twofold. He provides the laughs and banters with the announcer. But during the bull riding his more dangerous job begins. Rumford is a barrelman: the cowboy who works the barrel, providing an oasis of safety for bullfighters and bull riders, in case an angry bull decides to chase them.
Rumford grew up in a rodeo family and competed in junior high, high school and college rodeo. He was a full time steer wrestler, but then blew out his knee. While he recovered, he worked as an assistant rodeo coach at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford. After his knee healed, he helped with the Cody (Wyo.) Night Rodeo for three seasons, then began as a livestock truck driver for North Platte’s stock contractor, Bennie Beutler of Beutler and Son Rodeo. He never considered being a full time rodeo clown, but after a few tries as clown, he changed his mind. “I worked the Pretty Prairie (Kan.) bull riding, and they gave me a good check And I thought, why the heck am I working so hard for not much a week when I can make more than that in a night? So I jumped ship for the clown life.”
And lucky for rodeo fans, Rumford is still clowning, and winning honors at it. In 2012, 2013, 2014,2015,2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 he’s been honored as the PRCA’s Clown of the Year. The award is voted on by his peers and rodeo committees, and Justin is humbled to get it. “I don’t know if I deserve it, but I’m fortunate to accept it. It’s unbelievable.” In September of 2013, he and his wife Ashley became the parents of triplets, daughters Livi and Lola, and a son, Bandy. “I have a 44 foot trailer,” he said, “and I can bring the whole family with me."