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Corro Stories

Corro 101: The Rodeo! What You Need To Know Before You Go

By Caroline Arendt

When the rodeo comes to town, there’s quite a bit of excitement that comes with it. Whether you have ever wanted to attend but know little about it, or are an experienced rodeo-goer that just cannot get enough, Corro has got you covered. We’ll give you a little history and what you need to know to help you feel prepared for the next chance you get to experience the excitement of a rodeo.


A Brief History Of The Rodeo

Rodeo is a modern-day competition with roots as deep as the American Frontier. The sport we’re familiar with today boasts big names and even bigger prizes still traceable to the vaquero roundups of 1800. Rodeo competition roots are traced back into the 19th century and were heavily influenced by California cattle ranchers and Spanish settlers. According to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, the skills of the early Spanish vaqueros were eventually passed along and evolved after the civil war when the frontier territories were heavily expanding and ranching became a source of income.

With the history of ranching, came the rise of the American cowboy. Within ranches, cowboys would test their skills and even compete with neighboring ranches for the coveted title of “best all-around cowboy”. After the conclusion of World War II, thanks to the entertainment and competition aspect, rodeo popularity boomed. These competitions formalized into the PRCA in 1936, when cowboys decided that their hard-earned entry fees should be added to the prize money and that judging should be more objective.

The goal of today’s rodeo is to preserve the western heritage while providing livelihood. According to the PRCA, More than 43 million people identify themselves as fans, and many attend PRCA-sanctioned rodeos around the country annually. The love of the sport reaches more than just big cities, with many smaller-sanctioned competitions happen in small-town and rural America, creating jobs, livelihood and fostering the cowboy way.

What Types of Competitions Are At The Rodeo?

Today’s professional rodeos feature six main events and two types of competition — timed events and rough stock events. While saddle bronc riding and calf roping have roots traceable to days work at the ranch, barrel racing, bull riding, team roping and steer wrestling were individual events designed to select the fastest or “best” hand on the ranch or region.

A few prominent rodeos are beginning to include breakaway roping. Similar to calf roping, breakaway roping is a ladies-only timed roping competition where a calf is released and the competitor ropes it, and as soon as there is tension the rope “breaks” and the clock is stopped.

Bareback Riding

Developed in the 1910s bareback bronc riding is the match of a bronc (an unbroken horse, usually built thick) and cowboy. The cowboy only has a “suitcase handle” connected to a surcingle around the horse. As soon as the contestant nods he or she must “mark out”, ensuring the spurs above the horse’s shoulders when leaving the chute. The contestant’s free hand must not touch any part of the horse or themselves during the duration of the eight-second timed ride. If the contestant stays one the entire eight-seconds, the score is then based on a cumulative total of up to 50 points each for bronc and rider’s performances. Competitive scores usually exceed 80 points.

Steer Wrestling

Does it get more cowboy than running after a steer (a male, castrated bovine) at full speed and then sliding off your horse to wrestle it to the ground? Steer wrestling, also known as bulldogging is a timed event in which the steer is given a head start and two riders, the bulldogger and a “hazer” (who keeps the steer running straight) run after the steer while the bulldogger slides off his horse, grabs the head and wrestles it to the ground using a twisting motion. The clock stops when the steer is lying flat on its side with all four limbs facing the same direction. If either contestant breaks the barrier before the steer is given it’s designated head start, a 10-second penalty is added to the final time.

Saddle Bronc Riding

Saddle Bronc Riding evolved from the 19th Century cowboy’s traditional horse breaking tasks. Similar to Bareback Riding, Saddle Bronc Riding is also a judged event requiring strength and finesse from the contestant, whose goal is to stay atop of a 1,200 lb + bronc for eight-seconds one-handed. To make a qualifying score, the contestant must leave the chute with their spurs over the shoulders of the horse; the contestant’s feet must remain in the stirrups, and the contestant’s free hand cannot touch the horse, the saddle, or the contestant’s body. Event scoring combines a total of up to 50 points apiece for horse and rider; winning scores typically exceed 80 combined points.

Tie-Down Roping

Tie-Down Roping advanced from the traditional tasks of a roundup, where calves were roped to aid in doctoring and branding. As a timed event, the calf is given it’s designated head start. If the contestant and horse break the barrier (set to give the calf a headstart), a 10-second penalty is added. Once the calf leaves the chute the contestant and horse pursue and position themselves to rope the calf around the neck, halt and dismount. While the contestant dismounts and runs to the calf, the horse’s job is to keep the rope taut so the calf doesn’t try to flee or get tangled in the slack. Once the contestant reaches the calf, they have to pick the calf up, throw it on its side and tie three legs securely with a “piggin string”. Once the contestant throws their hands up, time is declared. For a qualified time, the calf’s legs must stay tied for six seconds after the contestant remounts and gives slack in the rope. If the calf kicks free, the contestant receives no time.

Team Roping

Team Roping is the only true “team” event in rodeo. Like other roping events, the steer is given a head start and the contestants are careful not to pursue prematurely, which could result in a 10-second penalty. The leading roper — the header, must catch the steer around the horns with their rope, then dally (wrap the rope around the saddle horn) their rope and turn the steer to aid the other roper — the heeler in catching the back feet or the “heels”. The heeler then ropes the steer’s back feet, dallies and stops their horse. Time is called when there is no slack in the ropes and both horses are facing each other with the steer caught in between. A five-second penalty can occur when only one hind foot is caught.

Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is the sole womens-only event featured regularly in pro rodeo. With its popularity ranking only second to bull riding, this timed event is nothing short of exciting. Contestants have a running start and must run a clover-shaped barrel pattern as quickly and efficiently as possible, without knocking down any barrels. This event requires a lead change and expert horsemanship to navigate a running horse through the pattern. Contestants are allowed to touch barrels to help them stay upright when turning. Time begins when the contestant and horse cross the barrier into the arena and is marked when they cross as they exit. Tipping a barrel adds a five-second penalty.

Bull Riding

Undoubtedly one of the sport’s most popular events, Bull Riding pits a competitor against a 2,000 lbs bull, and requires a ride of at least eight-seconds. To stay on the animal, the rider uses a rope wrapped around the animal and uses one hand to hold on. As with other judged rodeo events, a cumulative score is used giving 50 points to both rider and bull. Competitive scores range above 80 combined points, with 90 or better representing an exceptional ride.

Rodeo is a sport rich in tradition with an exciting future ahead thanks to innovations in technology and safety for both the animal and human athletes. To learn more about rodeo events and opportunities near you, be sure to check out your state and county’s website. To learn more about the PRCA and local PRCA-sanctioned events coming to an arena near you, check out their 2020 schedule.