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Rodeo Rough Stock

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Rodeo Rough Stock

A bucking bull stands majestically in the arena.

Photo © Mary R. Vogt
Regardless of the season or location, the one constant at all rodeo events is the presence of rough stock. It’s almost a certainty that the chutes will be filled with bucking bulls and ranging broncs, but many people are under the impression that these animals are wild beasts rounded up specifically the rodeo. The rough stock industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and rodeo stock are some of the most prized animals on the planet.

Rough Stock Basics

The term “rough stock” is somewhat of a misnomer. While the animals may seem to be wild and untamed, they are actually bred and trained from birth to eventually end up in the chutes. Stock contractors, the technical term for the men and women who provide animals to rodeo organizations, sign agreements to provide a certain number of animals for each day of the rodeo. A single event may have multiple contractors, and these contractors may transport either bulls or bucking horses to the event. Stock contractors often keep hundreds of animals on their property, reserving their best animals for large rodeos such as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Cheyenne Frontier Days. Larger rodeos offer more compensation for strong buckers, and prized animals may bring in thousands of dollars per event.

What Makes a Good Animal?

Stock contractors carefully select the most powerful spinners and strongest buckers for their breeding programs. Picking the right animals isn’t so much a science as it is a skill; even animals from top-performing parents may fizzle in the arena. Experienced livestock handlers observe potential rodeo animals carefully, watching the way they move and interact with humans and other animals. Young horses and bulls typically buck and play with each other, although this behavior decreases with age. Good rodeo animals continue to buck and jump as they grow up, displaying the fearlessness and athleticism of a true athlete. Unlike many other rodeo events where purebred animals dominate the ring, rough stock animals are often a combination of multiple breeds. Bulls often include Angus or Longhorn blood for size and Brahman blood for speed and agility. Bucking horses are also heavily crossbred, with contractors focusing more on bucking ability and temperament than lineage. The majority of bucking horses include a strain of draft blood such as Clydesdale or Percheron for added strength and bucking power.

Rodeo Animals and Safety

There’s no doubt that rodeo can be a dangerous sport. In recent years, cowboys have begun wearing extra safety gear to protect themselves from the horns and hooves of their bucking counterparts. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is also dedicated to the health and safety of the animals in the arena, and has instituted a number of rules and guidelines to protect hooved competitors. The PRCA demands that every animal on the premises be treated fairly, and does not allow dangerous or abusive tactics to be used at any time. For example, many people assume that the flank straps used on rough stock is rough or hurts the animal in some way. PRCA guidelines denote that the strap must be made of soft, 5/8-inch rope free of metal or sharp objects. Spurs are another common tool of the rodeo cowboy, but spurs used in competition must feature rounded or rowel-less shanks to prevent accidental injuries. PRCA-sanctioned events have at least one veterinarian on premises to treat any injured animals immediately, and have Animal Welfare coordinators on-site to monitor animal treatment and make sure all horses, bulls, calves and steers are fed, watered and comfortable between runs. Animal treatment is a controversial issue, and while a few bad apples have treated animals poorly in smaller rodeos, animal safety and welfare is a top priority at all PRCA events.

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