Bull riding is the highlight of every rodeo, and with good reason. When a cowboy puts his life at risk to test the strength, agility and balance of his 160 lb. body against that of a 2000 pound raging bull, most with horns, it is sure to be exciting.
Easily the most dangerous event of rodeo, the bull rider straddles the back of a wild cross bred bull. He uses a flat braided rope which is wrapped around the girth of the bull while in the chute, and holds on to a handhold in the rope. The tail of the rope is then looped around the cowboy’s hand once, and some men even weave the tail through their fingers for added grip. The only protection for his hand is a soft leather glove, which he rosins to make sticky to the rope. Below the bull will be some cowbells. Because the rope must be loose – not tied or secured to the animal in any way, the bells act as weights to help pull the bull rope off after the rider has dismounted.
When ready, the cowboy will nod his head, the arena crew will open the chute, and the bull will burst out into the arena. The objective of the cowboy is to stay up on his rope, in what is referred to as the “sweet spot”- too far forward and he will be slammed down onto the bulls horns, too far back and his hand will be jerked from the rope and he will be bucked off. Spurring is not required, but will increase the cowboy’s score if he is able to do so.
Bucking bulls are more than just kicking bovine. These animals are bred and love to buck. Some will buck high, with big front end drop, others will be flat and spin very fast. They will twist, sunfish, change direction, contort their bodies, and try to fool the rider with head fakes- turning their head one way, but bucking back the other way. Think of it as trying to ride a tornado for 8 seconds. When the bull gets to spinning one direction, he creates what is called “the well”, the space inside the circle of his spins. Stay out of the well! Falling in the well will put the rider directly in front of those punishing horns, and should his hand be hung up in his rope and not able to free himself, he will be in eminent danger.
If the fearless cowboy is able to use his physical and mental strength to complete the ride, he will receive a score of up to 100 points for his ride. 2 judges will award 1-25 points each for both him and the bull. But even then he must rely on the bullfighters to help him get clear of the bull and out of the arena to safety.
In team roping, 2 person teams riding horses try to catch up to and rope a steer in the shortest amount of time. The teammate who ropes the front of the steer is known as the header while the heeler ropes the hind feet of the steer. Team roping is about perfecting timing between teammates and horses. This event originated on ranches when two cowboys were typically needed to rope large steers to provide health care or branding techniques.
Fans will see that cooperation and timing is not only required between ropers but also between their horses. The American quarter horse is the most popular breed used for this event. Heading horses typically are taller and heavier since they need the power to turn the steer after it is roped. Heeling horses are quick and agile, allowing them to react fast as the steer moves.
In team roping the steer is released from the chute before the competitors. If the header leaves the box before the steer reaches his advantage point, this is called breaking the barrier, and the ropers are penalized 10 seconds. When the header reaches the steer, he must make a legal catch, which is one that lands around both horns, around one horn and the head or completely around the neck. Any other catch of the rope is considered illegal and disqualifies the team.
When a legal catch is made, the header turns the steer to the left and reveals the steer’s hind legs to the heeler. The heeler then ropes both hind legs. If he catches only one foot, the team is assessed a five-second penalty. The cowboys then need to get the slack out of the ropes and their horses facing one another. This is the signal for the clock to stop. This is a fast moving, highly competitive event that is exciting for any rodeo crowd.
Barrel Racing is an event of speed, timing, and split-second decisions. The athletic skills of rider and horse are tested as they maneuver a clover leaf pattern around barrels while turning at top speeds. Horse and rider enter the arena from one end and must begin the pattern at the left or right barrel in this fast-paced event. The clock stops when they race across the finish line. Tight quick turns and fast straight aways will provide the best times. Knocking over a barrel will add a 5 second penalty to the run, but the contestant may attempt to keep the barrel upright with their hand. The communication between horse and rider is crucial when the winner can be determined by thousandths of a second.
Saddle Bronc Riding
Saddle bronc riding is the classic event of rodeo. It began as a daily chore of breaking and training horses on ranches in the Old West, and as cowboys tried to prove themselves as being better than one another, it became a competitive sport.
As the name indicates, the cowboy rides in a saddle, specifically an association type without a horn, and attempts to stay in the saddle for 8 seconds aboard a bucking horse. When the chute gate opens, the cowboy must “mark out” his horse, by keeping his heels above the point of the shoulders of the horse until after the first jump out of the chute. After this, he is required to spur the horse for the duration of the ride, using long smooth strokes of his feet along the horse’s side. His feet must remain in the stirrups, and the only thing he has to hold on to is a six-foot braided rope attached to the horse’s halter.
The other hand of the cowboy must remain in the air, and is not allowed to touch himself, the animal or any of the equipment. If a cowboy breaks any of the rules, he is disqualified. The better the cowboy can keep his seat in the saddle, and stay in perfect harmony with the horse’s bucking motion, the better his score will be.
If he should make it to the eight second whistle, the cowboy will be scored by the judges. Two judges will each award a score of 1-25 points to both the rider and the horse, for a potential top score of 100 points. The rider is scored on his position and rhythm, and the horse is scored on his ability to buck.
In the bareback riding event, a cowboy will attempt to ride a wildly bucking horse that was drawn for him at random, for a duration of 8 seconds. The cowboy sits on the horse’s back, and has only his riggin to hold on to. The riggin is a leather strap and padded cinch with a suitcase style handle that is molded to fit the cowboy’s hand, and which he must hang on to with a stiff leather glove.
When the cowboy nods his head, and the chute gate opens, he must “mark out” his horse, or keep his heels above the point of the horse’s shoulders until the first jump out of the chute. After the first jump, the cowboy is required to spur the horse- legs straight and feet forward while the horse’s back end is up and kicking, then bringing his heels back toward the riggin with his toes turned out, as the horse bucks up again. The cowboy must stay in rhythm with the horse, and keep his free hand, or hand not holding the riggin, in the air, and is not allowed to touch himself or the horse with his free hand.
The bareback riding is a physically demanding event, as the cowboy’s body is continuously beaten by the back and rump of the horse, and the buck offs can be high flying acts, with the cowboys sometimes landing on their heads and backs in the arena dirt. For this reason, bareback riders wear protective vests with neck supports, to try to reduce the risk of broken necks and backs from the hard landings.
Should the cowboy make an 8 second qualified ride, he will be judged by 2 judges, one on each side of the horse, and each marking a score of 1-25 for both the rider and horse, for a total possible score of 100 points.
Tie-down roping can be traced back to the ranches of the Old West, when cowboys would rope calves on the open range to doctor them. Today’s rodeo tie-down roper uses the same principles of speed, timing, efficiency and a good horse.
The cowboy starts from a three sided box, and when he signals he is ready, the calf he has drawn is released from a chute and is given a head start. A rope barrier is used to determine if the calf was given his fair start, or if the cowboy left early, and “broke the barrier”. If this should happen, the cowboy will be assessed a 10 second penalty added to the time of his run.
The cowboy must ride his horse to catch up to the calf, rope the calf, then jump from his running horse and sprint along his rope to the calf. When he reaches the calf, he must lay the calf down on its side, which is called “flanking”. If the calf is already laying down when the cowboy reaches it, the cowboy must help the calf to its feet and then flank it.
During this time, the horse has slid to a stop and is keeping pressure on the rope, so the calf cannot escape, but does not drag the calf.
A small rope with a looped end, referred to as a “piggin string” is carried in the cowboy’s teeth. After flanking the calf, the cowboy uses the piggin string to tie any 3 of the calf’s feet together. He will throw his hands in the air to signal the run is complete, then will return to his horse and mount. He must ride forward to put slack in the rope, and wait for 6 seconds, signaled by the judges, to be complete. Should the calf wiggle free during this time frame, the cowboy will receive no score.
In this timed event, the fastest time will win.
Steer wrestling, also known as bulldogging, is the strong man’s sport of rodeo. Many steer wrestlers are bigger men, compared to the competitors of other rodeo events, and they need more than just size to bring a 600 pound running steer to the ground using only their hands.
Steer wrestlers use leverage and momentum to help complete their run.
The cowboy backs his horse into a 3 sided box, and calls for his steer to be released. The steer receives a head start, and a rope barrier is used to determine if the cowboy leaves too early, in which case he receives a 10 second penalty added to his time.
A companion, called a hazer, rides his horse alongside the steer to keep it running straight and true for the competitor. The hazer is not competing in this run, but rather is helping his friend.
When the two get alongside the steer, the wrestler slides off his galloping horse to the side of the steer, grabs it by the horns, and sets his boot heels in the dirt to stop the two of them.
Using his massive upper body strength, he must also twist his body to turn the head of the steer, and then the remainder of the steer must fall to the ground for the run to end. The steer must have all four legs off the ground and pointing in the same direction for the cowboy’s time to be stopped.
Fastest time among the competitors will win.