Professional Rodeos, like all other competitive sports, have a particular set of rules for their events. Knowing what to look for out in the arena and how the points add up is what makes this sport interactive and fun for the viewers! RodeosUSA has compiled a brief run-down for you to get to know these events better.
A form of rodeo where you do not need membership to a rodeo association in order to participate. Local individuals can come and show their roping and riding talent in the arena while spectators watch from the stands. Open Rodeos are the first stop for people who want a future in professional rodeo, and like most rodeos, western attire is required and enforced.
Rough Stock Rodeo Events
Rough stock is the more dangerous of the two types, and these are all about endurance; holding on to the bucking horses or bulls for as long as possible. While most of the events you’ll see are based on traditional ranching techniques, others are molded specifically for entertainment and competition purposes. Meaning: you won’t see this happening at your local ranch.
Rough Stock Events Include
Bareback Bronc Riding
Originally based on the necessary horse-breaking skills that ranchers and cowboys used to tame their horses, and is similar to bull riding where the animal tries to buck or throw the rider from it’s back. In this event, the rider must try to stay on the horse for 8 seconds using only one hand. Touching the horse or themselves with their free hand,, or not marking out the horse, will disqualify them from earning points. “Marking out” is what the riders must do right out of the gate, which is to have the heels of his boots in contact with the horse above the shoulders before it’s front legs meet the ground out of the chute. As the horse bucks, the rider will bend his knees and roll the spurs along the shoulders of the animal, straightening out again in anticipation of the next buck as the horse descends.
The points earned in this event are between 0-50, though scores in the 80’s and 90’s are high and exceptional. A bareback rider is judged on spurring technique, the position of the feet during the bucking and the general ability to roll with the damaging punches that a powerful bucking horse applies.
Arguably the most popular of the events you’ll see at a modern rodeo. Cowboys ride full-grown bulls into the arena, holding on to just one flat-braided rope that goes around the chest and shoulders of the bull, and attempts to hold that position for 8 seconds while the bull bucks. As if there isn’t already a catch, the cowboy can only use one hand for the ride. Touching the bull or even himself will result in no score. The rider must showcase balance, leg strength and riding style during this event. What adds to the excitement of this event is the fact that these bulls are unpredictable in their bucking habits — you never know what you’re going to get!
Saddle Bronc Riding
A classic rodeo event that is different than Bareback due to the saddle that is used, the additional causes for disqualification and the differences in sitting and bucking on the horse. Saddle Bronc riding is claimed to be the toughest of the events to master due to the number of techniques and skills used. The rider uses a saddle with no horn and a braided reign attached to the horse’s leather halter. Out of the gate, the rider must “mark” the horse by keeping their heels at the animals’s shoulders when it makes it’s first jump. Failure to do so is grounds for disqualification. The goal is for the rider to find a rhythm and control with the horse, while also swinging forward and backward in a sweeping motion, spurring the animal from shoulder to flank. Like most of these similar events, the rider cannot touch the animal or himself for 8 seconds with his free hand or he will be disqualified.
Timed Rodeo Events
Timed events are based on the skills of modern-day working cowboys, primarily the different types of roping events you’ll see at a performance, as well as speed and agility displays such as barrel racing.
Timed Rodeo Events Include
A timed speed and agility event. In professional, collegiate and high school rodeo this event is typically just for women, but there are certain competitions when men will compete. The time for this event begins when the cowgirl runs over the starting line with her horse in the arena. Three upright barrels in cloverleaf pattern are set out, and the rider must make a tight run of agile turns without knocking over any of the barrels. There are no judges in this competition, just time, and the time clock stops once the horse has completed the formation. A five second penalty is incurred if the rider’s horse tips any of the barrels.
A form of calf roping where the calf is not thrown or roped. There is a very short rope used, called a lariat, that is tied to the saddle horn by a string and knotted with a flag that makes it more visible to see when the string breaks. Riders must wait until the calf gets it’s head start before racing out of the chute to toss a rope around it’s neck. Once roped, the rider signals for their horse to make a sudden stop, allowing for the calf to pull the rope and break the string at the saddle horn, signaling the end of the run. This is an event that is solely about speed and precision in roping.
Pole Bending is a timed event usually seen in high school rodeos, gymkhana or O-Mok-See and 4-H events. The setting up of the poles is crucial to the performance. Each pole is 21 feet apart, with the first pole set 21 feet from the starting point. They are six feet in height and 14 inches in diameter. The horse and rider must work together in this event as one, making it not only a show of agility and speed, but of good horsemanship. Knocking over a pole is a five-second penalty, whereas not following the course is a disqualification.
Usually an event for women and pre-teen girls and boys, involves the rider racing across the arena (sometimes 100 feet) toward a staked-out goat, then jumping from the back of their horse while it’s sliding to a stop, though sometimes still in motion. They catch and throw the goat, flanking it onto it’s side, and tying any three of it’s legs together. The rider then moved three feet from the goat and throws their hands into the air to signal the end of the run. The contestant with the fastest run wins, but penalties can be incurred, including disqualification is the goat comes untied during a 6 second period.
Also known as “Bulldogging,” is the event where a rider jumps from the back of his horse onto a steer, wrestling it to the ground by it’s horns as quickly as possible. Having all of the animal’s legs and head facing in the same direction is what earns the points, but there’s more to it than that. This is a dangerous event that requires perfect timing, strength and balance. The steer gets a head start out of the gate, and once reaching it’s advantage point, the rider is sent through the barrier to chase it down. If the rider leaves out of the barrier before the steer’s head start, a 10-second penalty is added on. In the arena at the same time is a second rider, known as the “hazer,” who keeps the steer running straight for the bulldogger; the efforts of both hazer and bulldogger are incredibly important to this event, so a portion of the payout will go to them.
A timed event, and the only event that involves a two-person team: a header and a heeler. These two highly skilled ropers must cooperate with one another and with their horses in order to earn points in this event. These two riders must work in tandem to rope and restrain a full-grown steer in the arena. The header will rope first and must make one of three legal catches. Anything not around both horns, a horn and the head or the neck will disqualify the team from proceeding. Once the catch is made, the header turns the steer left so the heeler can then rope both hind legs. If only one leg is roped, a five-second penalty is applied. When there is no slack to the ropes and both header and heeler’s horses are facing one another, the time clock is stopped.
Also called Calf Roping and often used interchangeably, is an event that is steeped in ranching history. The goal is to display good horsemanship, speed and roping precision. The calf is given a head start out of the gate depending on the length of the arena. A breakaway rope is wrapped around the calf’s neck and hung across the box that the rider is in. Once the calf reaches it’s advantage point, the barrier is released and the rider chases after. If the rider breaks the barrier before the calf’s head start, a 10 second penalty is incurred. The horse is trained to suddenly stop when the rope throws and catches the calf, the rider then leaps from the horse, sprints for the calf and flanks it onto it’s side by hand. If the calf is not standing when the rider reaches it, they must allow it to stand before flanking. Three legs of the calf must be tied together with a pigging string carried in the rider’s teeth during the run. Once the roper has finished tying, they throw their hands into the air to signal the end of their run. The roper then remounts, rides forward to give slack to the rope, and waits six seconds to see if the calf can kick free. If it does, the roper receives no time.
Alternative Rodeo Events
There are also additional events that a local rodeo may have.
The competitive sport of shooting while riding horseback. Shooting while on horseback requires good horsemanship and shooting skill. The competition itself is to shoot ten balloon targets while riding through a series of challenging courses. The guns are Old West single-action revolvers loaded with blanks that shoot 20 feet, and the object of the competition is to ride the fastest and shoot the most amount of targets. Penalties are incurred for missing targets, not following the course, and knocking over barrels or target stands.
A children’s-only event that involves a child being placed on the back of a sheep inside of a chute, then released into the arena. The goal of this event is to see which child can hold on the longest to the running sheep, after which prizes are awarded to the longest time. Children are usually made to wear helmets during these rides, and most of the kids can stay on for about 8 seconds.