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Rodeo 101

Get to Know Rodeo.

Bareback Riding

Bareback Riding consistently produces some of the wildest action in the sport. To stay aboard the horse, a bareback rider must grasp the rigging with only one hand. The rigging made of leather and cowhide resembles a suitcase handle on a strap. The rigging is placed atop the horse’s withers and secured with a cinch. 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 on its first jump from the chute. This is called “marking out.” If the cowboy fails to mark out, he is disqualified. In bareback, the rider reaches forward with his legs toward the horse’s neck, and then pulls his legs back toward him as the horse leaps, swinging his legs wide and back toward the horse’s neck as the horse completes its jump. A bareback rider is judged on his spurring technique, the degree to which his toes remain turned out while he is spurring and the rider’s “exposure” to the strength of the horse. The horse’s performance accounts for half the total score. The rider is disqualified if he fails to mark his horse out, touches any part of the horse or his equipment with his free hand, or if he is bucked off before the completion of the 8-second ride.

Saddle Bronc Riding

Saddle Bronc riding evolved from breaking and training horses to work cattle ranches. 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 rider must mark out their horses on the first jump from the chute. To properly mark out a horse, the 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 the mark, no score is received. The bronc rider holds onto a thick rein attached to the 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 throughout the ride, the length of his spurring stroke and how hard the horse bucks. While striving to keep his toes turned outward, the rider spurs from the points of the horse’s shoulders then sweeping to the back of the saddle as the horse bucks. The rider then snaps his feet back to the horse’s neck a split second before the animal’s front feet hit the ground. 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. Disqualification can also result if either foot slips out of a stirrup or if he drops the bronc rein.

Barrel Racing

Barrel Racing may look less daring than some of the other rodeo events, but it’s certainly is not for the timid. The horsemanship skills and competitive drive in this fast and furious event make it a crowd favorite. In barrel racing, the horse and contestant enter the arena at full speed. When they begin the course the electronic eye is triggered and the clock starts. The racer rides a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels positioned in the arena. While sprinting back out of the arena they trip the eye and the clock stops. The contestant can touch and even move the barrels, but if any barrel is knocked down a five-second penalty is received for each one. The barrel racing title is usually decided by hundredths of a second, one tipped barrel can mean the difference between a victory and finishing out of the money.

Bull Riding

The rules are simple: a cowboy, using only a braided rope wrapped around the bulls torso, must hang on for 8 seconds without touching the bull with his free hand. 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. 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. The rider tries to remain forward, or “over his hand,” at all times. Leaning back could cause him to be whipped forward when the bull bucks. To stay aboard the bull, a rider grasps a flat braided rope, which is wrapped around the bull’s chest. This rope is placed 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, and finally 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 in all the riding events, half of the score in bull riding is determined by the contestant’s performance and the other half is based on the animal’s efforts. Bull riders are not required to mark out their animals, but spurring a bull can add to the cowboy’s score. Judges watch for good body position and other factors, including the use of the free arm and spurring action. Riders are commonly judged solely on their ability to stay aboard the twisting, bucking mass of muscle. A bull rider will be disqualified for touching the animal, himself, or his equipment, with his free hand.

Steer Wrestling

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. The goal is to catch the steer by the horns and flip it onto its back in the fastest time possible. That sounds simple enough, right? 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 about 30 miles per hour. Speed and precision, the two most important ingredients in steer wrestling, make bulldogging one of rodeo’s most challenging events. It works like this… A breakaway rope barrier is attached to the steer and stretched across the open end of the box. The steer wrestler on horseback starts behind a barrier and begins his chase after the steer has been given a head start. The head start is determined by the size of the arena. The barrier is released when the steer reaches the advantage point and the bulldogger takes off in pursuit. If the bulldogger breaks the barrier before the steer reaches the head start, a 10-second penalty is given. A perfect combination of strength, timing and technique are necessary for success in the lightning-quick event of steer wrestling. In addition to strength, other skills critical to successful steer wrestling are timing, balance and understanding the principles of leverage. When the bulldogger’s horse pulls even with the steer, he eases down the right side of the horse and reaches for the steer’s horns. After grasping the horns, he digs his heels into the dirt. As the steer slows, the cowboy turns the animal, lifts up on its right horn and pushes down with his left hand. After the catch, the steer wrestler must either bring the steer to a stop or change the direction of the animal’s body before the throw or is disqualified. The clock stops when the steer is on his side with all four legs pointing in the same direction. To catch the sprinting steer, the bulldogger is assisted by a “hazer,” another cowboy on horseback tasked with riding along the right side of the steer and keeping it from veering away from the bulldogger. The efforts of the hazer can be nearly as important as those of the steer wrestler. Steer wrestling is often known as the “big man’s event” and with good reason; at the 1995 NFR in Las Vegas, the average steer wrestler weighed in at 223 pounds.

Breakaway Roping

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.

Tie-Down Roping

Tie-down Roping is an event that evolved from everyday duties where cowhands had to rope and immobilize calves quickly to doctor or brand them. Ranch hands prided themselves on this skill and soon turned their work into informal contests. Today, the cowboy on horseback 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. 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, a 10-second penalty is given. 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 flanks it. 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. Meanwhile, 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 to the judge that he‘s done. The roper then remounts his horse, rides forward to create slack in the rope and waits six seconds. If the calf kicks free, no score is received.

Team Roping

Team Roping requires close cooperation and timing between two highly skilled ropers – a header and a heeler – and their horses. Team ropers start from the boxes on each side of the chute from where 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. A 10-second penalty is added if the header breaks the barrier before the steer completes the head start. The header ropes first and must make one of three legal catches on the steer or is disqualified–around both horns, around one horn and the head or around the neck. After the header makes his catch, he turns the steer and exposes the hind legs to the heeler. The heeler then attempts to rope both hind legs. If he catches only one foot, a five-second penalty is added. The clock is stopped once the steer is caught, the horses face one another and there is no slack in their ropes. If one or the other misses completely, the team receives a no time. Another important aspect to the event is the type of horses used by the 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.


Sound Like a Pro!

Barrel man: an entertainer who uses a barrel to distract a bull after a ride, and sometimes to protect the cowboy

Barrier: in timed events, a line at the front of the box that the contestant/horse cannot cross until the steer/calf has a head start, usually marked with a rope and a flag

Box: in a timed event, the area a horse and rider back into before they make a roping or steer wrestling run

Breaking the barrier: in the timed events, if the rider leaves the box too soon – failing to give the animal enough of a head start – a 10-second penalty is added

Bronc rein: used by saddle bronc rider, reins are held at a specific position based on the size and bucking habits of the horse

Bulldogger: a steer wrestler

Bullfighter: an athlete who protects the bull rider after he dismounts or is bucked off by distracting the bull and directing it to the exit gate

Calf roper: a tie-down roper

Chute: a pen that holds an animal safely in position

Covering: in rough stock events, staying on for the minimum time: “He covered all 3 broncs last weekend.”

Crossfire penalty: in team roping, if the header doesn’t change the direction of the steer before the heeler catches, the run is disqualified

Dally: after a team roper throws his loop he wraps the loose rope around his saddle horn

Draw: a random draw is conducted and each competitor is assigned a specific bucking horse, bull or calf, steer.

Drop: the way a bucking horse/bull lowers its front end while kicking out in back or the way a calf/steer lowers its head to avoid a catch

Flags: judges in use flags to signal the timers to stop the clocks

Flank man: someone who works in the bucking chutes, adjusting the flank strap around the animal before the ride

Flank strap: a strap placed in the area where a human’s belt would go, it encourages the animal to kick out behind itself rather than rear up

Go-round: Many rodeos have more than one round of competition; each is called a go-round

Hazer: in steer wrestling, an “assistant” cowboy on horseback tasked with riding along the right side of the steer and keeping it from veering away from the bulldogger

Header: in team roping, the header throws the first rope over the animal’s head or horns

Heeler: in team roping, the heeler throws the second rope to catch both the steer’s hind legs

Hooey: a knot used to tie a calf’s legs together in tie-down roping

Hung up: when a bull rider or bareback rider cannot remove his hand from the rope or handle before he dismounts or is thrown off

Judges: trained judges ensure that all participants follow the rules: they determine times and scores for rides, record penalties, inspect the arena, chutes and livestock before each competition

Left (or right) delivery: many bucking animals prefer to stand in the chute facing a particular direction

Mark out: in bareback and saddle bronc, a cowboy’s feet must be above the horse’s shoulders when the horse’s front feet hit the ground

Nodding: a cowboy nods when he is ready for the gateman to open the gate and the ride to begin or when he is ready for the calf or steer to be released from the chute

Penalty: amount of time tacked onto the final time if a rule is broken

Pickup men: cowboys on horseback who help riders dismount, release a flank strap and escort rough stock to the exit gate

Piggin’ string: rope used to tie a calf’s legs together in tie-down roping

Pigtail: a piece of string attached to the barrier that breaks if a timed-event contestant and their horse exits the box too soon

Rank: praise and respect used to describe challenging rough stock

Reride: when the judges offer the cowboy a clean-slate chance to ride a different horse/bull because the score was affected by equipment failure or a horse/bull that didn’t buck to performance specifications.

Riggin’: a suitcase-style handhold customized to a rider’s grip and attached to a molded piece of leather that is cinched, with a pad, around the horse’s girth

Rough stock: bucking horses and bulls used in bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding, usually bred and raised for the job

Score: the points awarded for the performance

Slack: excess entries performed before or after the main performance

Spurs: the spurs used have dulled rowels that do not penetrate the animals’ skin, which is several times thicker than human skin

Standings: a professional cowboy’s success is measured in earnings and cowboys may keep track of where they rank in yearly earnings in several sets of standings

Stock contractors: companies that bring livestock to the rodeos – bucking horses, bulls, steers and calves

Timed events: steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping and steer roping – events in which the contestant(s) who make the fastest qualified runs win

Try: a noun used for both cowboys and livestock, denoting grit, determination, fitness, stamina and resilience: “Give that cowboy a hand – he had a lot of try”

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