What is Rodeo?
Find out what the sport of rodeo is all about with the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo!
If you ask anyone involved in the rodeo world, “What is rodeo?” the first thing they will tell you is the origin of this event is the most unique in history. It is a sport founded on family, where good morals and manners are common, and a genuine camaraderie fills each rodeo arena.
The oldest sport on earth came to life from cattle ranching. While tending to the ranch, cowboys and cowgirls must carry out daily chores in order for everything to run properly, including breaking wild horses to ride for ranch work and gathering cattle for doctoring, branding, and shipping. To settle arguments, neighboring ranches would get together and perform their cowboy tasks to see who was the top hand. Of course, this ultimately led to more friendly competitions, and over several decades, the sport of rodeo grew. In 1936, the first rodeo association was born, Cowboys’ Turtle Association, a name they picked because they had been slow to act but had finally stuck their necks out for their cause. In 1945, the Turtles became the Rodeo Cowboys Association, which in 1975 evolved into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). What started as an informal event grew to hundreds of contestants competing for millions of dollars in arenas that hold thousands of people.
The PRCA now holds over 600 sanctioned rodeos a year and has about 7,000 members, 5,071 of which are rodeo contestants! At each sanctioned rodeo event, the contestants compete in their respective event for prize money. The PRCA recognizes what they call the seven traditional rodeo events at their rodeos: bull riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, team roping, and barrel racing.
For those that are new to the rodeo scene, learn more about each of our seven traditional events.
Bull Riding: To start, the rider slides down the chute (a small pen just big enough for the animal and rider that opens from the side) on to the bull and grips a flat braided rope. Once he has a good grip, also known as a “wrap,” he nods his head, so the gate man knows that it’s time to open the gate. The bucking chute is opened and the bull bucks out into the arena. The rider has one job and that is to stay on the bull for a total of eight seconds. If he falls off, he is awarded no score. If he rides the bull, the PRCA judges will decide how many points to award the contestant and the bull. There are a total of 50 points up for grabs from the rider and 50 points based on the bull’s performance. It’s a team effort!
Bareback Riding: The rider will get on the bronc that is in the chute and nod his head when he is ready. The rider only has a riggin’, or molded piece of leather similar to a suitcase handle, accompanied by a pad around the horse’s girth. Like in bull riding, both the horse and the rider are competing for 50 points each and the rider has to stay on the bucking horse for eight seconds. Some might argue that bareback riding is the toughest sport in rodeo!
Saddle Bronc Riding: This event is rodeo’s classic event, usually the one everyone expects to see when they come to a rodeo! While a bareback rider has a riggin’ to hold on to, the saddle bronc rider has a thick rein attached to his horse’s halter or “bronc rein.” Using one hand, the cowboy tries to stay securely seated in his saddle. The same rules apply here as they do for bull riding and bareback riding for the rider and the horse. Eight seconds and the cowboy who scores closest to 100 points will take home the gold buckle!
Overall, for all roughstock events, the rider must attempt to stay on the bucking horse or bull for at least eight seconds while hanging on with one arm. The other arm is his free hand and it must stay in the air for the duration of his ride, meaning if he slaps the animal or himself he is disqualified. Two judges score the rider from 0-25 and the animal 0-25, these four judged scores are added together with a total maximum score of 100 points.
Tie-Down Roping: The cowboy and horse start in a box, a three-sided fence, just next to where the calf is standing in a chute. When the roper is ready, he will nod his head, letting the chute boss know that he is ready for the gate to open. The calf receives a head start that is determined by the length of the arena. One end of a breakaway rope barrier is looped around the calf’s neck and stretched across the open end of the box. When the calf reaches its advantage point, the barrier is released. If the roper breaks the barrier, the cowboy is given a 10-second penalty. Once roped, the rider dismounts, sprints to the calf and flanks him, laying him on his side with all four feet sticking out. After the calf is flanked, the roper ties any three legs together with a piggin’ string – a short, looped rope. In this event, the fastest time wins!
Team Roping: This is the only true team event in pro rodeo! Just like in Tie-Down Roping, the calf must be given an advantage or a 5-second penalty is added. The header first ropes the head or neck of the steer then he turns him to the left, giving the heeler a clear shot to his back legs. The heeler must catch both back legs or a 5-second penalty is given. The clock stops when they are facing each other and ropes are pulled tight with no slack.
Steer Wrestling: The objective of the steer wrestler is to use strength and technique to wrestle a steer to the ground as quickly as possible. The rider starts in the box, nods his head when he is ready and the steer comes running out of the chute. The steer gets the same advantage the calf was given in tie-down and team roping. If the steer wrestler breaks the barrier, 10 seconds is added to his time.
Barrel Racing: Known for fast horses and pretty women, this is another event where you are racing against the clock! Three barrels are set up in a triangular shape from the alley, and the rider with the fastest time around them wins! Coming into the arena at a full run, the goal is to make a tight circle around all three barrels, giving the horse very little wiggle room to conform to the shape of the barrel. Speed is the name of the game but, one wrong move and down goes a barrel. Add a five-second penalty for that! The pair makes a cloverleaf pattern around the barrels before racing home, hopefully with three upright barrels, earning them a clean and fast time!
The sport of rodeo was built on an industry known for low-paying jobs and long hours but a love for their animals, land and the community. Today, it is with the shared love and appreciation for the sport our ancestors created that we will continue to educate people on the sport of rodeo.
If you are interested in seeing all the action up close and personal, join us in Kissimmee March 26th-29th, 2020 for the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo!