On The Trail with Nate Jestes

by Siri Stevens

Nate Jestes grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado. “I lived in town and spent my childhood playing sports.” Since the age of 6, Nate played hockey, baseball, and soccer as well as wrestling, track/field, and golf. When he got into high school, he concentrated on football and lacrosse, receiving academic athletic honors all four years. He played on All Star teams along with his older brother, Bryant, and younger sister, Kelli. The closest the bullfighter came to cattle was his summer job at a local sale barn, Centennial, working cattle in the back pen and family visits to his mom’s (Sue) family ranch in Douglas, Wyoming. It was at the family ranch that Nate acquired a love for flying when he flew with his uncle on the ranch.

After high school, Nate pursued his dreams of flying, heading to Bozeman, Montana, and completing a two year Aviation Science program at Montana State University. He got his Associate of Applied Science in Aviation and went on to get his commercial rating and his flight instructor certificate. At the age of 20, he was hired as a flight instructor at Summit Aviation and taught for two years. While Nate was in college, he worked at the Yellowstone Jet Center to learn more about the aviation industry and get his foot in the door. His boss, Al Sanvold, was a professional bullfighter, and Nate tagged along to a couple of his rodeos.

“When I quit playing sports and working out, I missed that athletic side of my life,” said Nate. “When I watched him, I was intrigued and amazed how much athleticism it took to do what he did. I decided I could do that and hit him up about it. I was really interested in learning how to do it.”


Nate on the Poudre Varisty football team versus Horizon - Courtesy of the family
Nate and his wife Bridget - Courtesy of the family
Nate at the age of 4 - Courtesy of the family

“Nate is a laid back guy,” said Al, who has now switched careers again; he leases a spot in a barbershop and Red’s Classical Barber is open for business in Belgrade, Montana. “He was one of my most favorite employees, he would do anything I asked; he was quiet and got the work done. When he came to me, I wasn’t sure if he was serious.” After Al realized he was, he agreed to take him down to the (Montana State Rodeo) college practice and teach him how to fight bulls at their practice every Monday and Wednesday. “The first time we went and we were working with a wheelbarrow I knew the kid was going to make it – I didn’t know he’d be a 3x NFR bullfighter. He took to it right away and everything I told him, he put in his memory bank. He has more natural talent than I’ve seen in any student I’ve taught so far.”

“I continued working as a flight instructor for two years and during that time I also worked a few rodeos; high school and then I had an opportunity to do a summer run full of amateur rodeos in North Dakota.”

That is when Nate was faced with another decision. “When I gave my boss my schedule, he said he couldn’t work around it. At 22 years old, my aviation career was on track, and I was getting to the point where I was building enough hours to apply for bigger and better.” The amateur rodeos didn’t pay enough to make up for the loss of his flight instructor career, so he turned again to Al.

“He told me that rodeo was tough and very few people made a living at it, and he told me that I needed to be willing to give up my life to do it – sacrificing my entire aviation career, weddings, funerals, birthday parties,” remembers Nate. “I’ve always followed my heart and it was tugging me towards rodeo and ultimately that was the decision I made.”

He officially switched careers in 2010; moved back to Douglas and worked for his dad (David) in his construction business to fill in the gaps when he wasn’t rodeoing. He worked Montana State High School Finals in Bozeman and Al came to watch. “It had snowed 6 inches the night before and the arena was a mud pit. They hung up about 8 bulls; we had to work that night. Al came up to me and said ‘Nate really, really good job. There’s no doubt in my mind you are ready to get your PRCA card and start fighting bulls at the professional level.’”


Nate played lacrosse and football for all four years of high school - Courtesy of the family
Nate bull fighting at the Ellensburg rodeo - Hubbell
Nate and his wife Bridget - Courtesy of the family

He got his card in September of 2010 and worked his first PRCA rodeo in White Sulphur Springs. Nate went to the PRCA convention in Las Vegas and spent three days sitting in his booth; nobody showed any interest in this new bullfighter. “The last day, Bob and Marty Barnes hired me for their entire summer run – June – September. I did their run for two years, working for my dad during the off time.”
In 2013, Nate got another big break. “When I was fighting for Barnes we would sell the rodeo with the Mexican fighting bulls. I was down in Sterling, Colorado, at a bull fight and won it.” That is when he met Cody Webster. He was at the event, working for Cervi, and friends with PBR bullfighter Frank Newsom. “He invited me to go to Rex Dunn World Championships in Ardmore, Oklahoma. I made the short round, and ended up winning fourth. That is where my career as a bullfighter started to get some traction.”

Cody worked a lot of rodeos for Powder River and Nate ended up getting hired in 2013 with Cody and the rest is history. “The young man has such a wonderful way about him,” said Lori Franzen, who along with her husband, Hank, own Powder River. “His personality is such that he wants to please – and his ability makes that easy – he’s really good in the arena and such a pleasure to have outside the arena around the crew. And his wife is a doll and a huge supporter of him.”

This marks the third year that the trio, Nate, Cody Webster, and Dusty Tuckness, will fight bulls at the Thomas & Mack. The three work as a team. “We all know what each others doing. When you’re fighting bulls, you’re reacting to the situation. When you have three guys on the same page, it just falls together.”

Nate spent the month of November at the Pitt Training Facility in Bozeman, Montana. Dane Fletcher is a retired linebacker for the New England Patriots, and Nate knew him when he was playing for Montana State. “I heard about this gym that was opening and I reached out to him – I sent him some videos of me fighting bulls, and he put together a workout routine. I try to get up there whenever I can.” His training consists of many things – explosive, deceleration, strength, cardio, stretching – everything. “The sport of rodeo is fast, you have split seconds to make decisions and react; your body has to be able to perform and get there – the speed is crazy.”

Nate is married to Bridget, a kindergarten teacher in Douglas. The couple met through his cousin and their friendship led to a wedding on May 14, 2016. Her teaching schedule works perfectly with his work schedule. Although he only has May and November completely off, his busiest time is from June to September and they travel the rodeo road together during the summer.

“When I started to find success in the rodeo industry, I was only missing one piece of the puzzle in order to take it to the next level. That puzzle piece was found 6 years ago when I met my wife. I just want to thank Bridget for all that she has done for me. She is the backbone to this whole thing, and I wouldn’t be where I’m at without her.”

At the end of his rodeo run, Nate has no plans yet. “I wasn’t raised or led down the path to become a bullfighter. I’ve had the cards stacked against me from day 1… Never be afraid to dream. Chase those dreams, and through hard work, determination, perseverance and resilience anything is possible.”

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