Rodeo photographer Norm Betts rammed by bull, recovering from cracked sternum

Photojournalist Norm Betts is recovering from a cracked sternum and broken ribs after a bull hit him in the chest during the Kitchener-Woolwich Ultimate Rodeo Tour on Friday.

Bull charged at Betts when he briefly looked down at his camera

Photographer Norm Betts took up rodeo photography in his retirement. He has photographed the Ultimate Rodeo Tour for 15 years. He is recovering at Guelph General Hospital after a bull charged at him and hit him in the chest. (Norm Betts)

Long time photojournalist Norm Betts is recovering at Guelph General Hospital after a bull rammed him during the Kitchener-Woolwich Ultimate Rodeo Tour on Friday.

Betts has been photographing the Ultimate Rodeo Tour for the past 15 years and is the only photographer allowed in the enclosed arena during competition.

"He was getting pictures, he was at the back and one of the bulls turned and Norm looked the other way for a brief moment," Ross Millar, president and producer of the tour, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

"It happened in split seconds."

In a YouTube video uploaded on Saturday, that appears to show the incident, the bull throws his rider then trots across the arena. As he passes, a man on a horse tries to lasso the bull but misses. Then the bull picks up speed and charges at Betts.

The golden rule is 'never take your eye off the bull'- Norm Betts

In the video, Betts can be seen knocked to the ground and then the bull flips him over on the ground like a rag doll. 

"Once I was on the ground, [the bull] poked at me a bit," Betts told CBC K-W, but said he remembers little else. 

"The golden rule is 'never take your eye off the bull'," he said. "I thought [the bull] had cleared and I was looking down at my cameras and that's the last I remember," Betts said.

The RAM Rodeo tour stops in Minden, Ont. Photos by Norm Betts. ©2017, Norm Betts, photographer (Norm Betts)

He said his wife, who was a few metres away, told him the bull hit him right in the chest.

"I can tell that because of how my chest feels," he said. "It hurts you laugh...burping hurts too."

Betts said he woke up when the rodeo emergency staff were looking after him. Fifteen minutes later, an ambulance arrived.

Doctors have told Betts he suffered a cracked sternum and several broken ribs. 

Not his first rodeo accident

Betts had a similar brush with a bull in 2013 at the Royal Winter Fair.

A bull charged around the ring, then lunged at Betts and threw him three meters in the air. 

"I thought I could side-step him and dance out of the way, like the clowns do. Nope, not at my age." Betts told CBC at the time. 

Betts took up rodeo photography in his retirement and this recent injury won't stop him from getting back into the arena once he's recovered.

"It makes for really great pictures. It's man against nature, " he said when asked what he loved about photographing rodeo events.

He adds he won't do anything different next time, except he won't ever check his cameras while in the arena ever again. 

"Anybody who knows Norm Betts, his past and his history, they know that he is extremely passionate about whatever he does and he is the same way with rodeo," Millar said.

"He totally understands the risks that are involved."


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