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Rodeo Events

 

Rodeo competition falls into one of two categories: roughstock events or timed events.

Roughstock events are the scored riding events of professional rodeo: saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, and bull riding.

 

In all roughstock events, the cowboy must ride for eight seconds to receive a qualified score. The contestant uses only one hand to secure himself to the animal. He may not touch the animal, himself, or any equipment with his “free hand” during the ride; doing so results in automatic disqualification and a “no score” for the round.

 

In regular-season rodeos, two professional officials judge the roughstock action. Each judge awards up to 25 points for the contestant’s performance and up to 25 points for the animal’s bucking efforts. The scores of the two judges are then added together to determine the contestant’s total score. A perfect score is 100. In the timed events–tie down roping, steer wrestling, team roping, and barrel racing–most contestants ride quarter horses. The calf or steer is always given a head start, determined by the size of the arena. It cannot be changed after the first animal has been released. A barrier string stretched across the box where the contestant waits to make his run is released when the calf or steer has gone the predetermined distance. If the contestant breaks the barrier, he is assessed a 10-second penalty.

 
Bronc Riding
Saddle bronc riding requires the balance of a gymnast, the timing of a springboard diver, and the grace of a dancer—all aboard a 1,200 pound pitching, twisting bronc. Considered rodeo’s “classic” event, saddle bronc riding evolved from the ranch work of breaking and training horses. Many cowboys say bronc riding is the most difficult roughstock event to master because of its technical requirements. Spurring action must be synchronized with the horse’s movements. If a rider is able to “keep in time” with the horse, the ride will be fluid and graceful, not wild and uncontrolled. A saddle bronc rider’s feet must touch the horse’s shoulders on the first jump out of the chute. This is called a “mark-out,” and a contestant who fails to have his feet in place at the beginning of the ride is said to have “missed his mark” and is disqualified. He will receive a “no score” for the round. The rider, gripping a thick rein attached to the horse’s halter as his only means of securing himself to the animal, attempts to place his feet over the horse’s shoulders a split second before the animal’s front feet strike the ground. As the horse bucks, the rider bends his knees and finishes his spurring stroke with his spurs near the “cantle,” the back of the saddle, then snaps his feet back to the horse’s shoulders as the animal’s front feet hit the ground.
 
Bareback Bronc
To get an idea of the strength required in bareback riding, imagine riding a jackhammer as if it were a pogo stick, holding on with only one hand. Bareback riders claim their sport is not quite that simple. Bareback riding is the most physically demanding event in rodeo. Immense physical stress is placed on the arm and back, and bareback riders face more long-term injuries, such as elbow and lower back problems, than other roughstock cowboys. Sheer strength isn’t all that’s required. A bareback rider is judged on his spurring technique, the degree to which his toes remain turned away from the horse throughout the ride and his “exposure,” or willingness to lean far back and take whatever may come during a ride. The horse’s bucking action also contributes half a rider’s score. Bareback riders grasp a “rigging,” a handhold made of leather and rawhide, that is secured to the horse with a cinch. The rigging must meet size and design specifications set by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Bareback riding also requires the rider to “mark out” his horse —to place his feet above the horse’s shoulders until the animal’s front feet hit the ground on its first move out of the chute. Failure by the cowboy to keep his feet in place results in disqualification. After the initial jump out of the chute, the cowboy pulls his spurs up the horse’s neck and shoulders until the spurs are nearly touching the rigging. The rider then straightens his legs, again placing his feet on the horse’s shoulders, in anticipation of the next jump.
 
Bull Riding
Most rodeo events originated on the ranches and cattle drives of the Old West. Roping cattle and riding broncs in competition were natural extensions of ranch work. Climbing aboard a bull, however, was not. Many people, in fact, view attempting to ride a surprisingly agile and powerful 2,000 pound bull as a concept that is not totally sane. But those who make their living riding bulls swear by the lifestyle. “This is it for me. It’s all I ever wanted to do,” said three-time world champion bull rider Tuff Hedeman. Bull riding requires balance, coordination, quick reflexes, flexibility, and, perhaps above all else, a positive mental attitude. The bull rider holds a flat-braided rope during his eight-second ride. In preparation for the ride, he pulls the tail of the rope through a loop, then wraps the rope around his riding hand, sometimes weaving the rope through his fingers to secure his grip. He nods his head as a signal for the chute gate to be opened and the ride to begin. Each bull has a unique style of bucking. Many bulls spin, or continuously circle, in one area of the arena. Others add a jump or kick to their spin, making them more difficult to ride. Still others jump, and kick in a straight line, move side to side during a jump, or lunge forward in an attempt to rid themselves of a rider. The cowboy’s control during the ride and the bull’s bucking efforts each account for half of the rider’s score.
 
Tie-Down Roping
More than any other event in professional rodeo, tie down roping has roots dating back to the Old West. When a calf was sick or injured, it had to be caught and immobilized quickly for treatment. Ranch hands prided themselves on how fast they could rope and tie calves, and soon they began informal contests. Being quick and accurate with a lasso aren’t the only requirements in tie down roping. A successful roper also must be an experienced horseman and a fast sprinter. After giving the calf a predesignated head start, the horse and rider give chase. As the cowboy throws his loop, the horse comes to a stop. After catching the calf, the cowboy dismounts, runs to the calf, throws it to the ground by hand (called “flanking”), and ties any three legs together using a “pigging string” he has carried in his teeth throughout the run. While the contestant is accomplishing all this, the horse must keep slack out of the rope, but not pull it tight enough to drag the calf. If the calf is not standing when the roper reaches it, the cowboy must allow the calf to stand and then flank it before making the tie. When the roper has completed his tie, he throws his hands in the air as a signal to the flag judge. He then remounts his horse and rides toward the calf, making the rope slack. The calf must remain tied for six seconds after the rope is slack or the cowboy will receive a “no time.”
 
Steer Wrestling

Steer Wrestling is the quickest event in rodeo and one of the most unlikely. The objective of the endeavor is evident in its name: to wrestle a steer to the ground using only leverage and strength. The steer wrestler, or “bulldogger,” begins his run behind a barrier along with his “hazer,” a second cowboy whose task is to keep the steer from veering away from the steer wrestler. The steer is given a head start, the length of which varies depending on the size of the arena. After the steer has reached the “scoreline” and the barrier is released, the steer wrestler and hazer chase the steer on their specially trained American Quarter Horses until the bulldogger is in position to dismount onto the racing steer. The steer wrestler slides down the right side of his horse until he can reach the steer’s horns. He hooks his right arm around the steer’s right horn and grasps the left horn in his left hand, then digs his heels deep in the dirt and uses leverage to bring down the steer. In addition to sheer strength, timing and balance are important to the steer wrestler. The hazer also is an important factor in the equation. Without him, the steer could quickly sour a run by veering away from the steer wrestler. If the steer wrestler places, the hazer receives a share of the payoff. If not, both go home empty-handed.

 

Team Roping

Team roping, the only true team event in professional rodeo, requires close cooperation between two cowboys and their horses. Equally important are the talents of the header and the heeler. Most team ropers specialize, although some work alternately, as a header or a heeler. As in all timed events, the steer is given a head start based on the size of the arena. The header waits behind a barrier, which is released after the steer has taken the proper head start. If the header breaks the barrier, the team is assessed a 10-second penalty. The heeler follows after the header has started his pursuit. The header is the first to rope. He must catch the steer around the horns, around one horn and the head, or around the neck. His roping job completed, the header dallies the rope around his saddle horn and rides to the left, turning the steer away from the heeler. As the header rides away, the heeler ropes the steer’s hind feet. Catching only one foot results in a five-second penalty. The clock is stopped when no slack is in the rope and the ropers are facing each other. Horses are trained separately for their specialties, heading or heeling. Heading horses usually are taller and heavier than heeling horses because they must turn the steer after the header has made his catch. Heeling horses are quick and agile because they must be able to keep up with the steer’s every move. The horse of choice for either specialty is the American Quarter Horse. Team roping originated on ranches when a large steer had to be caught and treated or branded and still is common on ranches today.

 

Barrel Racing

What started as a group of Texas ranchwomen in 1948 who wanted to add a little color and femininity to the rough-and-tumble sport of rodeo is now a computerized association with over 2,000 members. Ladies’ saddle bronc riding and trick riding were once a part of the early days of rodeo and wild west shows and were the only events in which women were allowed to participate. As these two events began to wane, the enthusiastic Texans developed the clover-leaf pattern and the fastest contestants around the course won. The group organized and called themselves the Girls’ Rodeo Association. They began with 74 original members, 60 approved contests, and a total payout of $29,000. This has evolved into a million dollar industry with women athletes riding well-conditioned race horses. In 1994, the WPRA had approved barrel races in 780 sanctioned Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s rodeos with a total of $2,600,953 in prize money. A segment of the original association was all-women rodeos. Now under the umbrella of the PWRA is the Professional Women’s Rodeo Association, which has competitions in riding and timed events similar to their male counterparts. Over 130 members make up this division, and they had the opportunity to compete in over 20 complete all-women’s rodeos and 70 approved events in the first year. The WPRA National Finals held each year pays out over $50,000.

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