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First Posted Aug 7, 2007
Feb 20, 2010

Rodeo Events

Have you ever attended a rodeo and wonder what was comprised in the judging of the different events? I have. The following information may help you understand what is going on in each one of the events.

Speed Events

Pole Bending

In this event, horse and rider compete for fastest time weaving a linear pattern through six equally spaced poles. The poles must be at least six feet in height and spaced twenty one feet apart. A running start is allowed and a five second penalty will be assessed for knocking down a pole. Disqualification will take place if the team goes off course. This is not an official rodeo event, but sometimes it is included for fun.

Barrel Racing

Contestants vie for the fastest time in running a triangular, cloverleaf pattern around three barrels. The horse and rider are allowed a running start, and time begins and ends upon crossing a visible starting line. A five second penalty is assessed for knocking over a barrel. The pattern can be started from the left or right. Contestants that go off the prescribed course are disqualified. In some rodeos this event will be billed as only women, but not always.

Flag Racing

A triangular pattern similar to that of the barrel race is used, with the substitution of a pole in place of barrel number three. The two other barrels will have a bucket that is 3/4 full of rabbit pellets placed on top of it, and a flag in one of these buckets. The rider may choose to run to the right or left. As they pass the first barrel, they pick up the flag, race past the pole back to the second barrel, and attempt to place the flag in the second bucket. If the rider knocks over the first bucket or the pole, a five second penalty will be assessed. If the rider does not pick up the flag, or misses the second bucket, no time will be given. If the second bucket or barrel is knocked over, the rider is disqualified. Speeds of 30 mph may be reached. This event is not included in all rodeos.


Roping Events

This is the second step in a roper's career. Most beginning ropers practice on fence posts, or other stationary objects, and then move into the arena with a live animal. The contestant stands in the roping box and, when the calf is released, attempts to throw the loop over the calf's head. Once the loop passes over the calf's head, the contestant must pull up the slack in the rope.

Calf Roping or Tie Down Roping

Calf roping combines speed and accuracy and its roots can be traced back to the working ranches of the Old West. When calves were sick or injured, cowboys had to rope and immobilize them quickly for veterinary treatment. Ranch hands prided themselves on how quickly they could rope and tie calves, and they soon turned their work into informal contests.

As the sport matured, being a good horseman and a fast sprinter became as important to the competitive calf roper as being quick and accurate with a lasso.

In today's modern rodeo, the mounted cowboy starts from a box, a three-sided, fenced area adjacent to the chute holding the calf. The fourth side of the box opens into the arena. The calf gets a head start 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 before the calf reaches its head start, the cowboy is assessed a 10-second penalty.

When the cowboy throws his loop and catches the calf, the horse is trained to come to a stop. After roping the calf, the cowboy dismounts, sprints to his catch 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, then flank it. After the calf is flanked, the roper ties any three legs together with a pigging string - a short, looped rope he carries in his teeth during the run. While the contestant is accomplishing all of that, his horse must pull back hard enough to eliminate any slack in the rope, but not so hard as to drag the calf.

When the roper finishes tying the calf, he throws his hands in the air as a signal that the run is completed. The roper then mounts his horse, rides forward to create slack in the rope, then waits six seconds to see if the calf remains tied. If the calf kicks free, the roper receives no time.

Mounted Breakaway Calf Roping

The roper is mounted on horseback with one end of his or her rope tied to the saddle horn by a piece of string. When the calf is released from the chute, the roper will be in hot pursuit with lasso swirling above his or her head. When the loop is thrown, it must pass completely over the calf's head. As the calf pulls away from the rider and horse, the rope grows taut and will break away from the saddle horn.

Team Roping

This event is loaded with hazards: collisions, entanglements, even possible loss of fingers. The team consists of two ropers, and two well-trained horses. One roper is called the "header." The headers responsibility is to catch the steer by the horns, while the teammate, called the "heeler," has the responsibility of catching the steer's back legs. When the header makes the catch, he must "dally off" (wind the rope around the saddle horn). He then turns the steer away from himself, causing the steer's heels to fly in the air for the heeler's loop to catch. When both ropers have been successful in their tasks, they must turn their horses to face the steer and pull their ropes taut.

Calf Roping On Foot

Contestant stands in a roping box next to the chute where the animal is penned. When the roper calls, the chute is opened and time starts when the calf's nose clears the chute. Contestant's loop must go completely over the calf's head and catch around any part of it's body. Time is called when slack is pulled out of the rope. Ropers are allowed 2 attempts with a total time limit of 30 seconds.

Roughstock Events

Saddle Bronc Riding



The rider attempts to stay on the horse for 8 seconds without touching the horse with his free hand after "marking the horse out" meaning having the heels of his boots in contact with the horse's shoulders the first jump out of the chute before the horse's front legs hit the ground. The rider that manages to complete a ride is scored on a scale of 0-50 and the horse is also scored on a scale of 0-50. Scores in the 80s are very good and in the 90s are exceptional. The wilder the horse is the more points are scored.

Saddle vs. Bareback Riding

Saddle bronc and bareback bronc styles are very different. In saddle bronc the rider is required to use a specialized saddle. This saddle has free swinging stirrups and no horn. The saddle bronc rider grips barehanded a simple rein braided from grass or polyester and attached to a leather and sheepskin halter worn by the horse. The rider lifts on the rein and attempts to find a rhythm with the animal by spurring forwards and backwards with his feet.

The bareback bronc rider, in contrast, does not use a saddle or rein but instead grips a simple handle mounted above the horse's withers with one gloved hand. The rider in this event leans back against the bucking horse and spurs in an up and down motion with his legs, again in rhythm with the motion of the horse.

Bareback Bronc Riding

A specially designed collection of leather and cinches used for this event is called a "bareback rigging." Compared to the bull rope, this one is really tied on to the animal and has a built-in hand hold. Another difference is that the rider must start the ride with both of his or her feet extended forward over the horse's shoulders on the first leap out of the chute. If the rider misses this, called "marking out," he or she will receive a penalty. If the rider is lucky enough to make the required 6 seconds, he or she may be plucked to safety as the two "pick-up men"move in and attempt to rescue the rider from his or her bucking mount. Contestants may elect to ride two-handed from start to finish, but will receive a lower score. During the ride, contestants must not touch the horse, rigging, their hat or themselves with their free hand.

Steer Riding

This is a good beginner's event, but not as easy as it looks. The rider has a "bull rope" wound around his or her hand; no knots allowed. This hand hold and the rider's legs are locked like scissors on the steer and are all the rider has to count on to stay on top. A rider who is able to spur, or move their legs back and fourth on the steer's sides, will receive a higher score.

Bull Riding

The ultimate event of the rodeo, Bull Riding, is an advanced version of Steer Riding, but with a one-half ton more beef to contend with and the added danger that many bulls turn back on the rider and attempt to get even for having their routine disrupted. Guaranteed, once you are on the bull and the gate opens, few riders ever leave this event without being slammed to the ground and scurrying for cover, as the Bull Fighter moves in to save the cowboy or cowgirl. Only the toughest of contestants can endure the 6 seconds required of a qualifying ride. Again, contestants may not touch the animal, rigging, their hat or themselves with their free hand. Judging and points distribution are the same as Bareback Bronc Riding.

Chute Dogging

This event is designed to give even the novice a chance to compete in rough stock events. The steer and the contestant both start in the bucking chute and face a 60-second time limit. When the chute gate opens, the contestant must bring the steer out to a 10-foot line in front of the chute, and then attempt to wrestle, or "dog" the steer to the ground. The contestant will turn the steer's head up and toward its shoulder, hoping the steer will fall over on its side with all four feet pointing in the same direction as the head is turned. If the steer is contrary and falls the other way, it is termed a "dog fall" and the contestant can either attempt to turn the head the same direction or let the steer up and start over. Many a steer out-wrestles the dogger and slips away, or is so muscular that you could turn his head completely around once and he still would not fall over.

Steering Wrestling or Bulldogging

Speed and agility are the name of the game in steer wrestling. With its modern world record sitting at 2.4 seconds, steer wrestling is the quickest event in rodeo. The cowboy's objective is to use strength and technique to wrestle a steer to the ground as quickly as possible. The need for speed and precision make steer wrestling, or bulldogging as it is commonly known, one of rodeo's most challenging events.

As with calf ropers and team ropers, the bulldogger starts on horseback in a box. A breakaway rope barrier is attached to the steer, then stretched across the open end of the box. The steer gets a head start that is determined by the size of the arena. When the steer reaches the advantage point, the barrier is released and the bulldogger takes off in pursuit. If the bulldogger breaks the barrier before the steer reaches its head start, a 10-second penalty is assessed.

When the cowboy reaches the steer, he slides down 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, using strength and leverage, wrestles the animal to the ground. His work is not complete until all four of the animal's feet face upward.

In order to catch up to the running steer, the cowboy uses a hazer, another mounted cowboy who gallops his horse along the right side of the steer, keeping it from veering away from the bulldogger.

The hazer can make or break a steer wrestler's run, so his role is as important as the skills the bulldogger hones. For that reason, and the fact a hazer sometimes supplies the bulldogger a horse, the hazer usually receives a fourth of the payoff if the steer wrestler places.

Some event descriptions and some pictures were obtained from the International Gay Rodeo Association's web site. Turn down your speakers--there is loud music on this site.


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