SEOUL — For professional cowboy Ira McKillip, the hard part of putting on a demonstration in South Korea isn’t riding bulls, but herding volunteers.

McKillip, who has conducted bull-riding demonstrations at the annual Cheongdo Bull Fighting Festival for the past four years, is seeking 10 to 12 troops interested in riding bulls, opening chute gates and serving as announcers for the April 11-13 event.

In return, he said, volunteers will get an all-expense paid trip, including meals, hotel and transportation, to see bulls in Cheongdo butt heads with each other.

McKillip said every year South Korean tourism officials invite him to perform at the festival, but the responsibility for finding volunteers is left solely on him, and he generally has two days or less between arriving in country and performing in the festival.

In past years he’s used volunteers from Kunsan and Osan air bases who he’s found by canvassing local bars.

The hardest part of finding volunteers, he said, is getting commanders to believe his assurances of troop safety are no bull.

“Over here in the U.S., there are bulls that will knock your teeth out,” McKillip said from Nebraska during a phone interview this week. “Those bulls over there [in South Korea] are really just farmers’ bulls, and anyone who knows how to ride a horse will be all right. The problem is getting commanders to believe that.”

He said American rodeo bulls, which are bred for the sport, are extremely athletic, while farmers’ bulls are “fat and slow.”

“They’ll get irritated that somebody is on them so they’ll jump around a little bit,” he said. “But I don’t think they’ve ever come close to bucking one of us off.”

He said even if a would-be volunteer has never been around animals, there are other ways to participate. He said he would need to people to help put flank ropes on the bulls, usher them into chutes and open gates.

Anyone interested in volunteering can e-mail McKillip at

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now