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Rodeo Defined

Rodeo Event Descriptions

Bareback Bronc Riding
Bareback riding is often compared to riding a jackhammer and produces the most injuries and long-term damage of all the rodeo events. Bareback riders use a leather rigging with a handle, similar to that of a suitcase, at the top. The horse also has a flank strap or bucking strap encouraging them to buck higher and straighter. It is typically about 4 inches wide and covered in sheepskin or neoprene and does not hurt the horse. Marking out is when the rider has both spurs above the point of the horse’s shoulders until the horse’s feet hit the ground following the initial jump from the bucking chute. Disqualification can result for failure to mark out. Bareback riders pull their knees up then straighten their legs through each buck. They must ride for 8 seconds to have a qualified ride and are then scored on their control and spurring technique. Their free hand cannot touch or hang onto anything during the ride. The horse is judged on power, speed and agility. Both scores are added together for the overall score with a maximum of 100.

Steer Wrestling
Steer Wrestling (aka bulldogging) is the quickest event in rodeo, requiring speed, precision and strength. The objective is to wrestle the steer to the ground as quickly as possible. Not as simple as it sounds…the steers usually weigh twice as much as the cowboys and they often meet while traveling up to 30 mph. Similar to tie down roping, the cowboy starts on horseback in the box with a breakaway barrier stretched across the front. The head start is determined by the size of the arena. A broken barrier is a 10 second penalty. When the cowboy reaches the steer, he slides 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 leverages the animal to a stop and then the ground. His time stops when the steer is on his side with all four feet facing the same direction. A hazer is another mounted cowboy who gallops his horse along the right side of the steer and keeps him from veering away from the bulldogger. The world record sits at 2.4 seconds!

Team Roping
Team Roping is the only true team event in ProRodeo and requires teamwork and coordination. There are two ropers, one deemed a header, one a heeler. They start similar to the other timed events; on their horse in the box on each side of the chute. The steer again gets a head start determined by the length of the arena. The barrier is stretched across the header’s box. The team is assessed a 10 second penalty for breaking the barrier. The header is out of the box first and must make a legal catch meaning around both horns, around one horn and the head or around the neck. Other catchers are illegal and disqualify the team. The header then turns the steer to the left so the steer’s hind legs are exposed to the heeler to rope. Both hind legs roped is the objective; one hind leg results in a 5 second penalty. The clock stops when both horses face each other and there is no slack in the ropes. The event comes from the need to catch a steer who was too large for one cowboy. Find more information at

Saddle Bronc Riding
Saddle bronc riding is the classic rodeo event, evolving from the task of breaking and training horses on ranches of the Old West. It requires technical skills as the rider’s moves must be synchronized with the movement of the horse. The objective is to have a fluid ride. Similar to bareback, cowboys must mark out their horses, meaning both heels touching the point of the shoulder when the horse makes his first jump out of the chute. If they fail to mark out, they receive no score. The riders try to stay secure in their saddle holding just a thick rein attached to the horse’s halter. He cannot touch anything with his free hand or he is disqualified. Judges score on the horse’s bucking action, the cowboy’s control and the spurring action. A smooth rhythmic ride for the entire eight seconds will score well.

Tie Down or Calf Roping
The timed event originates from cowboys needing to rope and immobilize calves who were sick or injured for veterinary treatment. In current competition, horse and cowboy start in a 3 sided area called a box which is adjacent to the chute holding the calf. The calf receives a head start determined by the length of the arena. A rope stretches across the open side of the box facing the arena. 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 stop as soon as the cowboy throws his loop and catches the calf. The cowboy 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. When the roper finishes tying the calf, he throws his hands in the air as a signal the run is completed. The calf must stay tied for six seconds or the roper receives no time. More info at

Barrel Racing
Barrel racing, at the collegiate and professional level, is primarily an event for women. Horse and rider must complete a cloverleaf pattern around set barrels in the fastest time. The horse’s athletic ability and the rider’s horsemanship skills are combined in order to safely and successfully maneuver through the pattern. There is a start line near one end of the arena and the timer is started as the pair crosses it. There are a few correct ways to run the pattern but strength, agility and communication are essential. Horses who “hug” the barrels and be able to show speed between the barrels but slow down and turn quickly. Running off pattern results in a no time. Every barrel down is a five second penalty added to their total time. Barrel racing is governed by the Women’s Professional Rodeo Assn. Riders use a lightweight barrel racing saddle and typically short shanked bits with tie-downs. The reins are a single strap going from one side of the bit, around the neck, to the other side to minimize risk of dropping or losing the reins.

Bull Riding
A fan favorite, bull riding has been deemed the most dangerous sport in rodeo and the most dangerous eight seconds in sports by sportscasters. The event originally started with fearless cowboys intentionally climbing on the back of a 2,000 pound dangerous bull to see if they could ride them. Serious injury risk is always present, for all those involved. The predictably exciting event demands intense physical prowess, supreme mental toughness and tons of courage. Like other roughstock events, cowboys hold onto their rigging with one hand and have a free hand they cannot touch anything with. They do not have to mark them out. They are judged mostly on their ability to stay aboard the twisting, bucking mass of muscle and horns. Riders must possess balance, flexibility, coordination, quick reflexes and a strong mental attitude. Cowboys use a flat braided rope to wrap around the girth of the bull, just behind the front legs that has a loop the other end is threaded through and tightened. The tail end is wrapped around and weaved through the cowboy’s hand. The “nod” is when the cowboy’s signal he is ready and for the chute gate to swing open. Bulls are known for spinning and twisting.
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Animal Welfare

In the sport of professional rodeo, cowboys share the limelight with the rodeo livestock. For a cowboy to compete at the highest level, the livestock also must be in peak condition. Both are athletes in their own right. The very nature of rodeo requires a working relationship, and in some events a partnership, between the cowboys and animal athletes.

Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) athletes value their animals, as do the PRCA stock contractors that provide the livestock for the rodeos. Like most people, PRCA members believe animals should be provided proper care and treatment. The PRCA and its members value their animals and staunchly protect them with specifically created rules.

Consistent proper treatment of animals by PRCA members – in and out of the arena – has been well documented by veterinarians who have witnessed the health and condition of the animals first hand.
Scottsdale, Arizona equine veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Schleining has this to say about the PRCA, “The PRCA upholds the standard of humane care of rodeo animal athletes, and in my professional opinion rodeo remains a healthy, humane, family oriented sport.”

Like a well-conditioned athlete, an animal can perform well only if it is healthy. Any cowboy will tell you he takes home a paycheck only when the animal is in top form. Stock contractors, the ranchers who raise and provide livestock to rodeos, also have an obvious financial interest in keeping the animals healthy. Simple logic dictates that no sensible businessperson would abuse an animal that is expected to perform in the future.

Many – if not most – of the PRCA’s approximately 10,000 members have more than an economic tie to animals. Nearly all have lived and worked around animals for most of their lives, and they possess a high degree of respect and fondness for the livestock.

Hundreds of veterinarians compete in professional rodeo.

“I think they participate because they have a deep interest in animals,” said Doug Corey, a Pendleton, Ore., veterinarian. “If there was any mistreatment going on, they wouldn’t participate.”

Anyone who attends a PRCA rodeo can be assured that the greatest care has been taken to prevent injury to animals or contestants.

PRCA members are bound by the not-for-profit corporation’s bylaws and rules, which include a section that deals exclusively with the humane treatment of animals. The association’s rules and regulations include more than 60 rules dealing with the care and treatment of animals. Anyone who violates these rules may be disqualified and reported to the PRCA, which will levy fines.

Professional rodeo judges, who are responsible for the enforcement of all PRCA rules, believe in these humane regulations and do not hesitate to report violations. Becoming a PRCA judge involves extensive training in the skills needed to evaluate livestock and testing of that knowledge and of the rodeo. PRCA rodeo judges undergo constant training and evaluation to ensure their skills are sharp and that they are enforcing PRCA rules, especially those regarding the care and handling of rodeo livestock.

Animal welfare is a major and ongoing initiative of the PRCA. Not only does the association have rules to ensure the proper care and treatment of rodeo livestock, but it also has several veterinary advisory panels and periodically hosts educational seminars for veterinarians and rodeo industry members. To coordinate its animal welfare efforts, the PRCA employs a full-time animal welfare coordinator to oversee internal and public education programs.

Courtesy of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA). For more information on the care and handling of rodeo livestock call (719) 593-8840.

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