By Keith Ryan Cartwright
For a city of just over 50,000 people, Pocatello, Idaho, has been home to an eclectic list of who’s who.
Shay Carl was one of the original founders of Maker Studios, which he sold to the Walt Disney Co. C. Ben Ross was mayor of Pocatello before becoming the governor of Idaho.
Greg Byrne is currently the athletic director for the University of Alabama, while Merrill Hoge played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears in the NFL and Dale Wilkinson played for the San Diego Clippers in the NBA.
There are plenty of others on the list.
Ryker Fenstermaker hopes to add his name to the list.
The 22-year-old Pocatello resident will be a senior at Idaho State University, where he is pursuing a double major in marketing and business management and has been working hard to establish himself as a perennial up-and-coming professional bullfighter.
He’s done quite a bit of cowboy protection and is now looking to make a name for himself with Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting.
This weekend, he’ll be competing in Ogden, Utah—a short two-hour drive from home.
“It definitely raises the bar,” said Fenstermaker, whose family and friends will see him compete in a freestyle event for the first time. “There’s an expectation that kind of seems higher.
“You want to impress everybody that that knows you, so it’s nice to just give them a good show and to walk out on top. It makes it (more fun) and I love competing. It helps give that competitive edge.”
The event, which is being held in conjunction with Ogden Pioneer Days, will feature Bailey Ziehl, Tristan Seargeant, Dylan Idleman and Fenstermaker.
Fenstermaker has and continues to find the balance between school, training and competing.
Much like he’s learned in the business management program, it all has to do with organization and communication.
“At the beginning of every semester,” Fenstermaker explained, “I like to go sit down with the professor and say, ‘Here’s my schedule. I would like to miss (class) to go do these bullfights.’ I don’t want to tell them, ‘Hey, I’m not going to be here.’ I like to open communications and let them know that I’m going to respect what they say and do that.”
Much like other athletes, who attend Idaho State, he said instructors have been accommodating.
That said, he has never made a big deal about his career outside of the classroom.
“I like to stay humble and keep my head down,” Fenstermaker said. “They’ve been very, very supportive here and let me take tests around my fighting.”
And, yes, freestyle is always on his mind. Even in the grocery store as he pushes his cart or the downtime between classes, he’s visualizing himself in the arena.
At the gym, where he’s changed his entire approach to training, Fenstermaker visualizes bullfighting during his entire workout.
“I’ve got my mindset that I want to win,” he said. “I’ve been putting in extra hours in the gym and getting mentally and physically prepared and I’m ready to come in and get the win.
Fenstermaker added, “I’ve kind of switched my training to more agility, speed and jumps. I’ve got a good buddy that’s a trainer at the gym, so me and him work pretty close together to target individual movements that I feel like I’m going to use in the arena.
“It’s helped me mentally be prepared when I get in the moment,” he concluded.
Speaking of being ready when the moment comes, his first ever freestyle experience came last year. He was driving to an AFB event just to help Gorham out behind the chutes when the legendary bullfighter called and asked if the newcomer would like to compete.
Without hesitating, Fenstermaker told Gorham yes.
He had previously practiced against a few Mexican cows but had never went head to head with a pure-bred Mexican fighting bull.
“I knew I wanted to do it,” Fenstermaker said, “and I was glad and blessed to just have that opportunity to finally to step in and show them what I had.”
He finished second.
Then he fought at a few other AFB events, but this will be his first AFB event in 2019.
Looking ahead, he’d like to return to Mitchell, Nebraska, for the second time in as many years and compete at other AFB events out West and in the Pacific Northwest—namely the Nampa, Idaho event.
But it’s all about one thing: Las Vegas.
Fenstermaker is focused on qualifying for a chance to compete at the AFB World Championships in November.
“Obviously that’s the end goal,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”