Snorting and raging, the bulls also trampled a horse and terrified a grandstand full of people who were gathered Sunday to watch a "Dancing With Bulls" event featuring rodeo clowns. The clowns were quickly pressed into action, scooping children out of the animals' way.
The animals lifted 100-pound metal panels that formed their enclosure by simultaneously sticking their heads through the panels and lifting them apart.
"We've never had that happen, never in my life," said Cotton Rosser, whose Flying U Rodeo staged the event. "Those panels are heavy."
The bulls broke loose as children were leaving the rodeo arena after a contest in which kids gathered dollar coins tossed on the ground.
As the bulls rushed out, Cal Expo Police Officer Pam Irey summoned onlookers to get out of the way. Her daughter Shelby, 16, was preparing for a flag ceremony in the staging area with nearly two dozen members of the sheriff's Explorers program.
"My mom grabbed a 5-year-old boy and tossed him over the fence to a cowboy so he wouldn't be trampled," she said. "She distracted the bulls from another Explorer."
Then the bulls charged Irey. She remained hospitalized Tuesday with broken ribs, a minor concussion and some abrasions, State Fair spokeswoman Jessica Dunning said.
The fair's deputy general manager, Brian May, called Irey a hero.
"Her instinct as a police officer was to warn people," May said. "She waved her arms, drew the attention of the bulls and was charged herself."
Rodeo hands and cow dogs were able to round up the bulls later and load them into trailers.