Constitution State Cowboys

Constitution State Cowboys
by John Galayda/Staff Photographer

It’s nearly dawn, but Franky Gugliotti is just as alert as the bull he rode hours earlier. A dislocated thumb and a sore groin have made sure of that.

He pulls his truck into the driveway of his family’s Prospect ranch where Darlene, his very pregnant wife, greets him. She hugs him and asks him about his night.

“Bucked off,” he says.

He then tells his wife about the nasty bull named “War Paint” that got the better of him by bucking him to the muddy arena floor one second shy of a required eight-second ride.

Gugliotti's Saturday night at Cowtown Rodeo in southern New Jersey would go just as it did the previous night at a rodeo in upstate New York. But for Gugliotti, there will be other rodeos, even one later in the day in southern Massachusetts. Three nights. Three states. Three rodeos.

A rare breed, Gugliotti, 34, is a third-generation cowboy and just one of three competitive bull riders in Connecticut, a state that hosts only a handful of the nation’s 650 rodeos annually.

Down the street from Gugliotti lives John Constantinople, 50, the world record holder for most Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association bull-riding circuit titles.

In the rodeo world, Constantinople’s name and reputation is widely known to cowboys in the most remote parts of the country.

“He’s a legend,” says Robert Killman, a travelling rodeo cowboy from the Mojave Desert. “The man has been riding bulls forever. His name is known everywhere.”

For 29 years, Constantinople, a full-time farrier, has been competing in a sport that averages one injury every 15 rides.

“I’m a freak of nature,” Constantinople says with conviction while sporting two hoof prints in the middle of his chest where he was kicked by a bull the night before.

”You have to fight through the injuries,” he says. “If you worry about getting hurt, get out of the business.”

Incredibly, Constantinople has won seven of his 10 titles after his 40th birthday.

“It’s the young guys, he says. “They say, ’Come on old man,’ and that gets me excited because I want to prove to them that age doesn’t mean a thing.”

One of those “young guys” is Mike Cintron, 28, who is recuperating in Fairfield with his parents after a bull broke his leg in July during a rodeo in Pennsylvania.

Cintron, a 1997 graduate of Masuk High School, has been riding bulls since he was 15.

“I had to do it all myself,” Cintron said. “My dad told me I could support myself if I was going to get on the back of those stupid animals.”

In high school, Cintron worked on a farm in Newtown and pumped gas at a station in Monroe to put himself through summer rodeo school. Today, he works as a part-time farrier.

Gugliotti, Cintron, and Constantinople have become close friends and travel partners over the years. Eight-hour drives along the rodeo trail are filled with conversation a common Nutmegger would find perplexing.

“I drew that SOB earlier this year,” Gugliotti says to Constantinople through a muffled voice, distorted by a cheek full of tobacco. “He’s rank. He kicks hard and then turns back.”

A “rank” bull is a vicious animal that will try to attack a thrown rider. “Turning back” is one of several actions a typical bucking bull will do.

The three men willfully trade experiences with hopes of learning each bull’s bucking behaviors. It’s not uncommon for a bull rider to draw the same bull several times throughout a season.

Gugliotti, the middle child among the makeshift family of three Connecticut bull riders, believes he can compete as long as Constantinople has.

“My dad jokes that I’ve been the bridesmaid, but never the bride,” laughs Gugliotti, who often places second to Constantinople in the overall standings at the end of year.

He’s putting together a career with Constantinople-like consistency. He’s finished in the top fifteen of the First Frontier Circuit (PRCA’s New England region) nearly every year he’s been a professional cowboy.

Gugliotti believes his bull riding can only improve. And he says the only way to improve is to get on the back of more bulls.

“I’d love to ride bulls full-time, but I couldn’t support my family that way,” he said.

To make ends meet, Gugliotti starts the day as a field mechanic for an electric company and ends the day breaking and training horses at his family’s ranch.

He is currently sponsored by BB Truck Repair and Municipal Truck Parts, two Cheshire-based companies who provide him with about $2,000 annually.

“I just need that big sponsor,” Gugliotti said.

Darlene Gugliotti, Franky’s wife, would tell you differently.

“A cowboy’s wife needs to be a cowboy’s biggest sponsor,” she says.

Darlene, who gave birth to the couple’s first daughter on September 24 of this year, constantly copes with her husband being on the road every weekend. She was slinging hay to horses and helping with riding lessons nearly to the day she gave birth.

“She’s been by my side through it all,” Gugliotti said.

He’s broken more bones than he can recall, flipped his kneecaps, and slipped into a 3-day coma in 1988.

“It’s a hard life,” Gugliotti said. “But cowboying is more than you see. It’s an attitude. It’s a way of life.”

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