*Provided by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA)*
Bareback riders endure more abuse, suffer more injuries and carry away more long-term damage than all other rodeo cowboys. To stay aboard the horse, a bareback rider uses a rigging made of leather and constructed to meet safety specifications. The rigging, which resembles a suitcase handle on a strap, is placed atop the horse’s withers and secured with a cinch. Bareback riding has been compared to riding a jackhammer with one hand.
As the bronc and rider burst from the chute, the rider must have both spurs touching the horse’s shoulders until the horse’s feet hit the ground after the initial move from the chute. This is called “marking out.” If the cowboy fails to do this, he is disqualified. As the bronc bucks, the rider pulls his knees up, rolling his spurs up the horse’s shoulders. As the horse descends, the cowboy straightens his legs, returning his spurs over the point of the horse’s shoulders in anticipation of the next jump. Making a qualified ride and earning a money-winning score requires more than just strength.
A bareback rider is judged on his spurring technique, the degree to which his toes remain turned out while he is spurring and his willingness to take whatever might come during his ride. It’s a tough way to make a living, all right. But, according to bareback riders, it’s the cowboy way.
Speed and strength are the name of the game in steer wrestling. In fact, with a world record sitting at 2.4 seconds, steer wrestling is the quickest event in rodeo. The objective of the steer wrestler, who is also known as a “bulldogger,” is to use strength and technique to wrestle a steer to the ground as quickly as possible. That sounds simple enough. Here’s the catch: the steer generally weighs more than twice as much as the cowboy and, at the time the two come together, they’re both often traveling at 30 miles per hour.
Speed and precision, the two most important ingredients in steer wrestling, make bulldogging one of rodeo’s most challenging events. As with tie-down and team ropers, the bulldogger starts on horseback in a box. A breakaway rope barrier is attached to the steer and stretched across the open end of the box. The steer gets a head start that is determined by the size of the arena. When the steer reaches the advantage point, the barrier is released and the bulldogger takes off in pursuit. If the bulldogger breaks the barrier before the steer reaches his head start, a 10-second penalty is assessed.
A perfect combination of strength, timing and technique are necessary for success in the lightning-quick event of steer wrestling. In addition to strength, two other skills critical to success in steer wrestling are timing and balance. When the cowboy reaches the steer, he slides down and off the right side of his galloping horse, hooks his right arm around the steer’s right horn, grasps the left horn with his left hand and, using strength and leverage, slows the animal and wrestles it to the ground. His work isn’t complete until the steer is on its side with all four feet pointing the same direction.
That’s still not all there is to it. To catch the sprinting steer, the cowboy uses a “hazer,” who is another mounted cowboy who gallops his horse along the right side of the steer and keeps it from veering away from the bulldogger. The efforts of the hazer can be nearly as important as those of the steer wrestler. For that reason, and the fact that he sometimes supplies the bulldogger with a horse, the hazer often receives a fourth of the payoff.
Team roping, the only true team event in rodeo, requires close cooperation and timing between two highly skilled ropers – a header and a heeler – and their horses. The event originated on ranches when cowboys needed to treat or brand large steers and the task proved too difficult for one man.
The key to success? Hard work and endless practice. Team roping partners must perfect their timing, both as a team and with their respective horses.
Similar to tie-down ropers and steer wrestlers, team ropers start from the boxes on each side of the chute from which the steer enters the arena. The steer gets a head start determined by the length of the arena.
One end of a breakaway barrier is attached to the steer and stretched across the open end of the header’s box. When the steer reaches his advantage point, the barrier is released, and the header takes off in pursuit, with the heeler trailing slightly further behind. The ropers are assessed a 10-second penalty if the header breaks the barrier before the steer completes his head start. Some rodeos use heeler barriers too.
The header ropes first and must make one of three legal catches on the steer — around both horns, around one horn and the head or around the neck. Any other catch by the header is considered illegal and the team is disqualified. After the header makes his catch, he turns the steer to the left and exposes the steer’s hind legs to the heeler. The heeler then attempts to rope both hind legs. If he catches only one foot, the team is assessed a five-second penalty. After the cowboys catch the steer, the clock is stopped when there is no slack in their ropes and their horses face one another.
Another important aspect to the event is the type of horses used by the ropers. The American quarter horse is the most popular among all timed-event competitors, particularly team ropers. Heading horses generally are taller and heavier because they need the power to turn the steer after it is roped. Heeling horses are quick and agile, enabling them to better follow the steer and react to it moves.
Saddle Bronc Riding
Saddle bronc riding is rodeo’s classic event, both a complement and contrast to the wilder spectacles of bareback riding and bull riding. This event requires strength to be sure, but the event also demands style, grace and precise timing.
Saddle bronc riding evolved from the task of breaking and training horses to work the cattle ranches of the Old West. Many cowboys claim riding saddle broncs is the toughest rodeo event to master because of the technical skills necessary for success.
Every move the bronc rider makes must be synchronized with the movement of the horse. The cowboy’s objective is a fluid ride, somewhat in contrast to the wilder and less-controlled rides of bareback riders.
One of the similarities shared by saddle bronc and bareback riding is the rule that riders in both events must mark out their horses on the first jump from the chute. To properly mark out his horse, the saddle bronc rider must have both heels touching the animal above the point of its shoulders when it makes its first jump from the chute. If the rider misses his mark, he receives no score.
While a bareback rider has a rigging to hold onto, the saddle bronc rider has only a thick rein attached to his horse’s halter. Using one hand, the cowboy tries to stay securely seated in his saddle. If he touches any part of the horse or his own body with his free hand, he is disqualified.
Judges score the horse’s bucking action, the cowboy’s control of the horse and the cowboy’s spurring action. While striving to keep his toes turned outward, the rider spurs from the points of the horse’s shoulders to the back of the saddle. To score well, the rider must maintain that action throughout the eight-second ride. While the bucking ability of the horse is quite naturally built into the scoring system, a smooth, rhythmic ride is sure to score better than a wild, uncontrolled effort.
Rodeo competition, in the beginning, was a natural extension of the daily challenges cowboys confronted on the ranch – roping calves and breaking broncs into saddle horses.
Bull riding, which is intentionally climbing on the back of a 2,000-pound bull, emerged from the fearless and possibly fool-hardy nature of the cowboy. The risks are obvious. Serious injury is always a possibility for those fearless enough to sit astride an animal that literally weighs a ton and is usually equipped with dangerous horns.
Regardless, cowboys do it, fans love it and bull riding ranks as one of rodeo’s most popular events.
Bull riding is dangerous and predictably exciting, demanding intense physical prowess, supreme mental toughness and courage. Like bareback and saddle bronc riders, the bull rider may use only one hand to stay aboard during the eight-second ride. If he touches the bull or himself with his free hand, he receives no score. But unlike the other roughstock contestants, bull riders are not required to mark out their animals. While spurring a bull can add to the cowboy’s score, riders are commonly judged solely on their ability to stay aboard the twisting, bucking mass of muscle.
Size, agility and power create a danger that makes bull riding a crowd favorite everywhere. Balance, flexibility, coordination, quick reflexes and, perhaps above all, a strong mental attitude are the stuff of which good bull riders are made.
To stay aboard the bull, a rider grasps a flat braided rope, which is wrapped around the bull’s chest just behind the front legs and over its withers. One end of the bull rope, called the tail, is threaded through a loop on the other end and tightened around the bull. The rider then wraps the tail around his hand, sometimes weaving it through his fingers to further secure his grip.
Then he nods his head, the chute gate swings open, and he and the bull explode into the arena.
Every bull is unique in its bucking habits. A bull may dart to the left, then to the right, then rear back. Some spin or continuously circle in one spot in the arena. Others add jumps or kicks to their spins, while others might jump and kick in a straight line or move side to side while bucking.
As with saddle bronc riding and team roping, the roots of tie-down roping can be traced back to the working ranches of the Old West. When calves were sick or injured, cowboys had to rope and immobilize them quickly for veterinary treatment. Ranch hands prided themselves on the speed with which they could rope and tie calves, and they soon turned their work into informal contests.
As the event matured, being a good horseman and a fast sprinter became as important to the competitive tie-down roper as being quick and accurate with a rope.
Today, the mounted cowboy starts from a box, a three-sided fenced area adjacent to the chute holding the calf. The fourth side of the box opens into the arena.
A cowboy’s success in tie-down roping depends in large part on the precise teamwork between him and his horse. The calf receives a head start that is determined by the length of the arena. One end of a breakaway rope barrier is looped around the calf’s neck and stretched across the open end of the box. When the calf reaches its advantage point, the barrier is released. If the roper breaks the barrier before the calf reaches its head start, the cowboy is assessed a 10-second penalty.
The horse is trained to come to a stop as soon as the cowboy throws his loop and catches the calf. The cowboy then dismounts, sprints to the calf and throws it by hand, a maneuver called flanking. If the calf is not standing when the cowboy reaches it, he must allow the calf to get back on its feet before flanking it. After the calf is flanked, the roper ties any three legs together with a pigging string – a short, looped rope he clenches in his teeth during the run.
While the contestant is accomplishing all of that, his horse must pull back hard enough to eliminate any slack in the rope, but not so hard as to drag the calf.
When the roper finishes tying the calf, he throws his hands in the air as a signal that the run is completed. The roper then remounts his horse, rides forward to create slack in the rope and waits six seconds to see if the calf remains tied. If the calf kicks free, the roper receives no time.
Breakaway roping is a rodeo event that features a calf and one cowgirl riding her horse. The calves are moved through narrow pathways leading to a chute with spring-loaded doors. A 10-foot rope is fastened around the calf’s neck which is used to ensure that the calf gets a head start. On one side of the chute will be the breakaway roper who will attempt to rope the calf.
The breakaway roper is behind a taut rope fastened with an easily broken string which is fastened to the rope on the calf. When the roper is ready she calls for the calf and the chute man trips a lever opening the doors. The suddenly freed calf breaks out running. When the calf reaches the end of his rope, it pops off and simultaneously releases the barrier for the roper. The roper must throw the rope in a loop around the calf’s neck.
Once the rope is around the calf’s neck, the roper signals the horse to stop suddenly. The rope is tied to the saddle horn with a string. When the calf hits the end of the rope, the rope is pulled tight and the string breaks. The breaking of the string marks the end of the run. The fastest run wins.
Goat tying is a fast-paced rodeo event that is typically seen in junior, high school and college rodeos. The object is to race to the end of the rodeo arena to where a goat is staked out on a 10′ rope (The distance from the starting line to the stake is usually 100 feet or so.)
Contestants dismount their horse while it is sliding to a stop or running, and race to the staked-out goat, which must be flipped to its side, in order to tie together three of its legs with a nylon or cotton rope (braided or unbraided with an approximate length of three feet.) Finally, contestants signal with their hands to indicate the end of their run. The contestant with the fastest time wins.
There are penalties that may be added to the contestants run at the judges discretion. Penalties such as a disqualification if the goat comes untied during the 6 second tie period, 10 seconds (depending on the rodeo) added to a time for the horse crossing the staked rope on the goat, or disqualification for the horse injuring or killing the goat (which is very rare) or causing the goat to become loose. A typical good time is 7 to 9 seconds. it is a sport some what like calf roping.
Pole bending is timed event that features a horse and one mounted rider, running a weaving or serpentine path around six poles arranged in a line. This event is usually seen in high school rodeos and not on the professional level.
The rider will take up a gallop and run past all the poles turning at the last pole. The rider and horse will make a serpentine path through the poles, that is, passing on alternating hands and leads through the poles. When the last pole is reached, the horse and rider continue in a mirror pattern through the poles back to the first one. When the pattern is completed the horse and rider then gallop back past the poles and through the timer. If the rider knocks over a pole he will be penalized, resulting in either disqualification from the event or a 5-second penalty (per knocked pole).
Barrel racing is a rodeo event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time. Barrel racing is primarily a rodeo event for women. It combines the horse’s athletic ability and the horsemanship skills of a rider in order to safely and successfully maneuver a horse through a clover leaf pattern around three barrels (typically three fifty-five gallon metal) placed in a triangle in the center of an arena.
In timed rodeo events, the purpose is to make a run as fast as possible, while the time is being clocked either by an electronic eye, (a device using a laser system to record times), or by an arena attendant or judge who manually takes the time using a keen eye and a flag to let a clocker know when to hit the timer stop; though this last method is more commonly seen in local and non-professional events.
The timer begins when horse and rider cross the start line, and ends when the barrel pattern has been successfully executed and horse and rider cross the finish line. The rider’s time depends on several factors, most commonly the horse’s physical and mental condition, the rider’s horsemanship abilities, and the type of ground or footing (the quality, depth, content, etc. of the sand or dirt in the arena).
Cutting is an equestrian event where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a calf away from a cattle herd and keep it away for a short period of time. The sport originally evolved from cattle ranches in the American West, where it was the cutting horse’s job to separate cows from the herd for vaccinating, castrating, and sorting. Eventually competitions arose between the best cutting horses and riders in the area. Rules were added, and in 1946 the National Cutting Horse Association was formed, which today is the governing body of the sport. In Texas High School Rodeo Association Cutting is offered as a Boy’s Cutting Horse Event and a Girl’s Cutting Horse Event.
The horses involved are typically Quarter horses, although other breeds may be used, such as American Paint Horses or Appaloosas. A horse that instinctively knows how to keep a calf from returning to the herd, and is trained in a manner to be shown competitively, is considered a cutting horse.
In the event, the horse and rider select and separate a calf out of a small group. The calf then tries to return to its herdmates; the rider loosens the reins (“puts his hand down” in the parlance) and leaves it entirely to the horse to keep the calf separated, a job the best horses do with relish, savvy, and style. A contestant has 2 1/2 minutes to show his horse; typically three cows are cut during a run, although working only two cows is acceptable. A judge awards points to the cutter based on a scale that ranges from 60 to 80, with 70 being considered average.
A rodeo queen is a female contestant that participates in a special event at rodeos. The event is part horse riding ability, part beauty pagent. Rodeo queens compete in Western-style classic clothing, usually on the back of a Quarter Horse.
There are two nationwide pageants in the United States, Miss Rodeo America and Miss Rodeo USA. In addition most states have their own pageants. There are a number of qualifying pageants, local pageants, and contests for specific rodeo events.
The most common major categories are appearance, horsemanship, and personality, with a number of subcategories.
Contestants are solicited, scored at a judging event, and offered scholarships and prizes. The winner of the THSRA pageant will reign as queen for an entire year and will have promotional opportunities, including attending parades, rodeos, and charity events.