Rodeo 101

Bareback Riding

This is the most physically demanding rodeo event. Using one arm, the cowboy holds onto the rawhide handhold of a riggin (a leather pad cinched around the horse's girth). The handhold is snug-fitting and is customized to the individual's grip. The stress on the rider's arm is intense as the riding arm absorbs most of the horse's power.

The bareback rider tries to reach as far forward as he can with his feet, then rolls his spurs back up toward the riggin. At the same time, he must keep from being pulled away from the handhold. The higher and wilder the rider spurs, the higher the marks.

A bareback rider will be disqualified for touching the animal or equipment with his free hand, or bucking off before the end of the eight-second ride.

Saddle Bronc Riding

Rhythm is the key in this event. The rider moves his feet from the horse’s neck in a full arc toward the back of the saddle in time with the bronc’s action. The cowboy must ride in a saddle built to governing rodeo association specifications with a braided rein connected to the horse’s halter. The cowboy uses this rein for balance. Where a cowboy holds onto the rein is very important. If he takes too short of rein, he will be pulled over the front, too long he may be bucked off the back.

‘Rider Friendly ‘ means he’s likely not going to try to crush or eat you up in the chute and he will have no interest in using you like a dance floor after he bucks you off.
— #smithersrodeo

The rider will be disqualified for touching any part of the horse or his equipment with his free hand, losing a stirrup or being bucked off before the end of the eight-second ride.

Tie Down Roping

Tie-down roping is the most technical event in rodeo. It requires a unique partnership with a working horse and excellent hand eye coordination on the part of the cowboy.

The calf is always given a head start and releases the barrier with a breakaway cord when it reaches the end of that head start. If the roper leaves the box too early, he breaks the barrier and will be assessed a ten second penalty.

Tie Down Roping Photo Credit: Photographic Options - Wendy Perry

Once the calf is roped, the contestant relies on his horse to stop in a stride as he dismounts on the run to reach the animal, flank and tie three legs. While the roper makes the tie his horse works independently to keep the rope taught. Time is called when the roper throws his hands into the air signaling he is finished.

The calf remains tied while the roper re-mounts his horse and the time becomes official; arena helpers immediately move in to free the calf.

A great run is a well choreographed ballet. Any unnecessary roughness will result in disqualification.


Steer Wrestling

In steer wrestling, a cowboy uses only his strength and skills to tackle a runaway steer at least twice his size and weight. This event is known for speed, ability and precise timing. Steer wrestling is the fastest rodeo event, with a world record of 2.4 seconds.

Keep calm and cowboy on ....
— @smithersrodeoclub

In the early 1900s, the legendary rodeo star and Wild West show performer, Bill Picket, created steer wrestling for entertainment value. Also known as “bulldogging,” steer wrestling was inspired by the real-life ranch practice of using trained bulldogs to help catch stray cattle. Steer wrestlers are commonly referred to as bulldoggers.

The steer wrestler starts behind the barrier on one side of the steer, which is waiting to run in the chute, while a second cowboy on horseback, called a hazer, waits on the opposite side. The hazer acts like a barrier preventing the steer from veering away from the bulldogger after it leaves the chute. Once the steer is given a head start, the bulldogger and hazer take off blocking either side of the 500-pound animal. The bulldogger slides off his horse, wraps his arms around the steer’s horns and digs his heels into the dirt. Once the cowboy brings the steer to a halt, he uses his whole body and strength to flip the steer on its side with all four legs pointing in the same direction. If the cowboy breaks the barrier too soon, he receives a 10 second penalty.

Steer Wrestling Photo Credit: Photographic Options - Wendy Perry

Team Roping

Partnership means success in this timed-sport. In team roping, two cowboys must work together and trust each other to rope a runaway steer and a championship title.

Two riders on horseback are positioned on either side of the steer’s chute in preparation for the wild chase. After the steer gains a head start, the first roper, known as the header, must rope the steer in one of three ways: around both horns, around one horn and the head, or around the neck. If the header ropes the steer in any other fashion, then the team is disqualified.

Team Roping Photo Credit: Photographic Options - Wendy Perry

After the header ropes the steer and quickly dallies his lasso (ties it around the saddle horn), he must quickly turn the steer to the left to set up his partner, the heeler. The heeler’s task is to lasso both of the steer’s hind legs while being careful not to catch the front legs. Time is called when both horses turn to face each other with no slack in the ropes holding the steer.

The riders are penalized 10 seconds if the header leaves the chute too soon and five seconds if the heeler only ropes one hind leg.

Ladies Barrel Racing

This all-women’s rodeo event is a display of fine horsemanship as the rider and horse maneuver through a course racing against the clock. Timing is truly everything in barrel racing as a contestant’s run is measured in hundredths of a second.

Entering the arena at full speed, the horse and rider race to complete a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in a triangle formation before exiting through the entrance. Precision and partnership are vital in barrel racing. Dirt flies as the horse and rider try to “hug the barrels” as close as possible to remove seconds from their time. Riding at top speed, the rider must be accurate or else they risk knocking over a barrel and adding a penalty of five precious seconds to their total time. In an event where every second counts, there is no room for error.

Ladies Barrel Racing Photo Credit:  FOUR L FARM - SR McClary

Good things come to those who hustle....
— Unknown

Breakaway Roping Photo Credit: Photographic Options - Wendy Perry

Breakaway Roping

Breakaway roping is the fastest event in rodeo and has the stats to prove it. Depending on the arena, top breakaway ropers routinely record times under the three-second mark. The event is very similar to tie-down roping in that the roper starts in the right-hand box behind a barrier that is designed to give the calf a head start. Leaving the box too soon adds ten seconds to the contestant’s time. When the roper calls for the calf, he or she chases it down the arena and attempts to rope it around the neck with a rope that is attached to the saddle horn with a thin piece of string. Once the catch is made, the contestant simply turns loose of the rope and stops the horse. Time is taken when the calf pulls the rope loose from the saddle horn. A small piece of white cloth is also attached to the tail of the rope to help the field judge see when the rope breaks free. 
The contestant is disqualified if he or she manually pulls the rope free. For the catch to be legal it does not necessarily have to settle around the calf’s neck, but it must at least pass over the animal’s nose. 
A breakaway roper is entitled to use a second loop in the event that the first one misses its mark, but the roper must carry two ropes to do so and the first rope cannot be broken free of the saddle horn until after the run is complete


Junior Steer Riding

Open to competitors 14 to 11 years of age as of the current year, Junior Steer Riders must have the reflexes and the body control of a seasoned gymnast if they hope to be successful.

Junior Steer Riding Photo Credit: Photographic Options - Wendy Perry

A Steer Rider stays on by means of a flat braided rope with a loose handhold, which he may hold onto with either one or two hands. If riding with one, they may not touch himself or the animal during the course of the ride, or they will be disqualified. Using their grip and a little dry resin, he keeps that rope tight around the girth of the Steer, just behind the front legs.

Junior Steer Riders are not required to “mark out” the Steer or spur at all times, but they increase their scores if they do. Once the rider is unseated, whether by their choice or the Steer’s, the bullfighters move in to distract the Steer, allowing the competitor to get to safety.

Junior Barrel Racing 

Junior Barrel Racing Photo Credit: Photographic Options - Wendy Perry

On the surface, barrel racing sounds pretty docile. After all, a run consists of just entering the arena and running a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels. However, this event is extremely fast paced and is always a crowd favorite. The contestant enters the arena and heads toward either the left or right barrel. Most barrel racers opt for the right-hand barrel, but some horses work better if they go to the left first. After making a tight turn around the first barrel, the horse and rider rush to the barrel on the opposite side of the arena and get around it as fast as possible. After making another turn around the barrel at the far end of the arena, the contestant heads for home as fast as possible.

Winning runs are usually only separated by a few hundredths of a second; therefore, time is taken using an electronic eye. The horse trips the eye heading into the pattern then again at the conclusion of the run. The horse and/or rider may bump or even move any or all of the barrels, but an overturned barrel will cost the contestant a five-second penalty. Many barrel horses trace their lineage to the race track and are priced accordingly. However, several of the best barrel horses in rodeo history came from modest pedigrees and were bought for a pittance.

Pee Wee Barrel Racing

Pee Wee Barrel Racing Photo Credit: Photographic Options - Wendy Perry

An event in which a horse and rider attempt to complete a clover-leaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time. 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 or plastic drums) 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).

Bull Riding

Hold tight to your passion seriously HOLD TIGHT !
— Chris Shivers

Definitely the most dangerous event in rodeo, bull riding requires a positive attitude from the cowboy as he faces a test of nerves with a tough bull. A braided rope, of varying width, is wrapped loosely around the bull with a weighted cowbell hanging underneath, allowing the rope to fall free when the ride is completed.

Bull Riding Photo Credit: FOUR F FARM - SR McClary

The rope has a woven handhold that is pulled tight around the rider’s hand and with one more wrap taken to ensure a snug fit. During the ride, the cowboy must keep himself close up on the handhold to prevent his arm from straightening and jerking his hand loose.

He will be disqualified for failing to have a bell attached to his rope, touching the bull with his free hand or bucking off before the end of an eight-second ride. Riders are not required to spur, as staying on these loose-hided animals is difficult enough. But naturally, if they do, they receive a better mark.

Pick-up men are not used, as a bull would just as soon fight a man on horseback as one on foot. The rider must depend on bullfighters to distract the bull until the cowboy is safely out of the bull’s range.


Wild Horse Race

One of the most exciting events, the Wild Horse Race has been said to be a rodeo in itself. Unlike the bucking stock used in the standard riding events, these horses are truly wild. They’ve never been ridden before, let alone saddled, and these mustangs plan on keeping it that way! These uncooperative beasts are called “outlaws” which is a term of endearment compared to some of the names tagged on them by the competitors.

Wild Horse Race Photo Credit: FOUR L FARM - SR McClary

The horses are haltered in the chute with a long lead rope. Two cowboys hold on to the end of the rope before the signal to start while the third member of the team holds the saddle in readiness. At the sound of the boom, the chute gate is opened and as soon as the horse crosses the chalk line in front of the chute, the three cowboys try their hardest to get the horse saddled.

A team of two hold the horse long enough to saddle him and allow the third cowboy to mount up, ride across the finish line, dismount, and run to the judge. Sounds simple and easy, but actual practice and theory become two complete strangers during this wild race. The general excitement and mass confusion plus the crowd all contribute to the fun in this favorite event for the spectators.


Wild Cow Milking Race

This event consists of a mugger, cowboy, and a cow. The cowboy will rope the cow around the neck and the mugger will then attempt to hold on to the cow by it's neck and head to steady the cow. The cowboy will then approach the cow and try to milk the cow into an empty water or beer bottle. The cowboy then runs to the side of the arena with the milk to stop the clock. The bottle is checked for milk and if there is milk in the bottle, then the cowboy receives time. The cowboy with the best time and milk in the bottle will win the event.
~ Mark Storey Memorial ~

Wild Cow Milking Photo Credit: Photographic Options - Wendy Perry