Bareback riding is one of the most physically demanding events in rodeo. A bareback rider sits directly on a bucking horse, with only his own “riggin’” to hang onto. As the horse comes out of the chute, the cowboy’s feet must be above the break of the horse’s shoulders. He holds his feet up at least through the horse’s first move, usually a jump, then spurs the horse on each jump, matching the horse’s rhythm and showing control rather than flopping around. He may not touch the horse, his equipment or himself with his free hand. If the ride lasts eight seconds, two judges award up to 25 points each for the cowboy’s “exposure” to the strength of the horse and his spurring technique and up to 25 points each for the horse’s bucking strength and moves.
Steer wrestling demands coordination between two mounted cowboys – the contestant and a hazer who controls the steer’s direction – and their horses. The cowboys back their horses into the box on each side of the steer. When the contestant nods, the chute gate opens and the steer gets a head start before the cowboys start to chase him. As the steer wrestler draws even, he dismounts from his horse, which is moving at perhaps 30 miles an hour. He grasps the steer’s horns and digs his boot heels into the dirt to slow down the 500- to 600-pound steer. Then he wrestles the steer onto its side; when all four legs point in the same direction, the clock stops. Times vary widely depending on the size of the arena.
Team ropers work as partners: one header and one heeler who move in precise coordination. They and their horses start in the “box.” When the header nods, the chute gate opens and the steer gets a head start. The header throws the first loop, which must catch the steer’s head or horns, protected by a horn wrap. Then the header dallies – wraps his rope around his saddle horn – and moves his horse to pull the rope taut, changing the direction of the steer. That gives the heeler the opportunity to catch both of the steer’s hind legs with his own rope; most heelers try to time their throws to catch the legs when they are in the air. After the catch, the heeler also dallies, to stop the steer. When the ropes are taut and both horses face the steer, the time is recorded. Times vary widely depending on the size of the arena.
In rodeo’s classic event, the saddle bronc rider sits on a specialized saddle – it has no horn, and the stirrups are set forward. In the chute, the cowboy adjusts his grip on the rein and perhaps the horse’s position. When the gate opens, his boots must be above the breaks of the horse’s shoulders. After the horse’s first move, usually a jump, the cowboy begins spurring in long, smooth strokes, in sync with the horse’s jumps – legs straight when the bronc comes down, toward the back of the saddle at the top of the jump. His only handhold is a six-foot braided rope; his free hand may not touch his equipment, his body or the horse. If the ride lasts the required eight seconds, it is scored by two judges – one on each side – who assess difficulty and control. Each judge awards up to 25 points for the cowboy’s performance and up to 25 points for the animal’s performance, for a potential of 100 points.
To start this sprinting event, the tie-down roper and his horse back into the box; the cowboy carries a rope in one hand and a “piggin’ string” in his mouth. When the cowboy nods, the chute opens and the calf gets a head start. The cowboy throws a loop over its head; his horse stops and pulls the rope taut while the cowboy jumps off , dashes down the rope, lays the calf on the ground and uses the piggin’ string to tie any three of its legs together. Then he lifts his hands to show he is finished, and the field flag judge drops a flag to stop the clock. The horse is trained to keep the rope taut until the cowboy remounts and moves the horse toward the calf, giving the rope slack. If the calf’s legs stay tied correctly for six seconds, it’s a qualified run and the time stands.
Barrel racing is just that – a race against time in a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels set up in the arena. A rider can choose to begin the cloverleaf pattern to the right or left. The time begins when the horse and rider cross the predetermined start line and stops when they come back across the same line. Each run is timed to the hundredths of a second, making every fraction of a second count. (Starting in 2012, Canadian rodeos now time to the thousandth of a second.) Each tipped-over barrel adds a five-second penalty to the time. Although barrel racing is one of seven events common to many PRCA-sanctioned rodeos, it is administered by a separate organization, the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, which produces its own online media guide.
Bull riding is rodeo’s most dangerous event. In the chute, the bull rider settles on the bull’s back, wraps his braided rope around the bull’s girth, then loops the rope around his hand and back into his palm so he can grip it tightly. When he nods, the gate is opened and the bull lunges out of the chute. Spurring is optional – the primary goal for the cowboy is to stay on for eight seconds without touching himself, his equipment or the bull with his free hand. The cowboy will be scored highly for staying in the middle of the bull, in full control of the ride. If the ride lasts the required eight seconds, it is scored by two judges who assess difficulty (the bull’s spinning, jumping and kicking, lunging, rearing and dropping, and side-to-side motion) as well as the cowboy’s degree of control. Each judge awards up to 25 points for the cowboy’s performance and up to 25 points for the animal’s performance, for a potential of 100 points.