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Rodeo Events Explained

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Rodeo is a culmination of the strongest cowboys and fastest cowgirls in the country. Competitors put their skills to the test in a number of different events, which test skill, strength and stamina. Rodeo events still conform closely to their historic roots, but incorporate a few modern changes to keep both competitors, and animals, safe and sound.

1. Tie Down Roping

Image © Mary R. Vogt
Tie down roping is one sport that has not strayed far from its roots. Originally developed as a way to immobilized calves for doctoring and branding on the farm, tie down roping is a staple on the rodeo circuit. The calf is loaded into a narrow chute, while the cowboy sits astride his horse behind a thin rope barrier. The calf gets a slight head start before the cowboy gives chase, tossing his rope around the calf's head and bringing it to a halt. The cowboy jumps off his horse and lays the calf on its side before tying three of its legs firmly together. After the knot is secure, the cowboy throws his hands in the air and steps away from the calf. If the tie stays firm for six seconds, the cowboy receives a time for a clean run. If the cowboy jumps the gun and leaves the barrier before the calf, 10 seconds are added to his overall time.

2. Team Roping

Image © Mary R. Vogt
Team roping is just that - a teamed sport between two well-trained, determined cowboys. One cowboy stands on each side of the steer inside the chute, and, as the steer charges forward, the cowboys attempt to stop him. The first cowboy, known as the header, tosses his rope toward the steer's head, with the ultimate goal being to rope the steer around the neck or horns. The heeler throws his rope at the steer's hind legs, hoping to catch both feet in the loop. The header then turns his horse to face the heeler, who stops his horse. The clock stops when the horses are stopped and there is no slack left in the ropes. If the heeler only catches one hind leg, five seconds is added to the team's overall time.

3. Steer Wrestling

Image © Mary R. Vogt
Frequently referred to as "bulldogging," steer wrestling is one of the most physically demanding of all rodeo events. A large steer is loaded into the chute as the cowboy settles into the box. The cowboy pursues the steer as he charges from the chute, leaning down to wrap his arms around the steer's horns. The cowboy slides from the saddle, securing his arms around the horns and planting his feet in the soft dirt of the arena. The cowboy then shifts his weight and turns his arms in an attempt to lay the steer down on his side. The timer stops when all four of the steer's legs are off the ground. Breaking the barrier results in a 10-second penalty to the cowboy's final time.

4. Bareback Riding

Image © R. Beaty
Bareback riding is one of the trickiest sports in the game. An extremely demanding sort, bareback riding couples a bucking horse and determined cowboy with only a thin rope. The rope is wrapped around the horse's chest and rider holds tightly to the rope while the horse bucks, jumps and kicks his way out of the chute. The cowboy's legs must be at or above the point of the shoulder until the horse's front feet touch the ground, and he must remain aboard for 8 seconds. Judges score both the horse and the rider, with scores evaluating both the cowboy's spurring skills and the horse's overall bucking technique. If the cowboy smacks the horse with his free hand or is unseated before the 8 second timer, the rider receives a no score.

5. Saddle Bronc Riding

Image © Mary R. Vogt
Saddle bronc riding is similar to bareback in the aspect that the cowboy straddles a bucking horse, but there are a few noticeable differences. The horse is fitted with a special sheepskin saddle and a halter with a long lead rope. The cowboy slips into the saddle and holds tightly to the rope, timing his movements with the horse's bucks and jumps. The rider's feet must remain above the shoulders as in bareback riding, and missing the mark out results in a no score. The horse and cowboy team with the highest overall scores wins the round.

6. Barrel Racing

Image © Mary R. Vogt
An event included especially for the ladies, barrel racing pairs the fastest, most agile horses with the most talented cowgirls. Three barrels are arranged in a cloverleaf pattern in the arena, and the cowgirl must make either two right turns and one left turn, or two left turns and one right turn around the barrels to complete her run. After rounding the last barrel, the horse and rider are in a flat out footrace against the timer, and the clock stops when the horse's nose passes the finish line. Any tipped barrels add an additional 5 seconds to the cowgirl's time, while any deviation from the pattern results in a no time.

7. Bull Riding

Image © Mary R. Vogt
By far one of the toughest events in any rodeo is the bull riding competition. A brave cowboy is pitted against a half-ton of bovine flesh in an eight-second battle royale. The cowboy clings tightly to the bull with the aid of a bull rope, all while the bull bucks, spins and jumps as he attempts to unseat the rider. Skilled cowboys spur the bull along during the ride, adding extra points to their score. The bull's bucking action accounts for half the overall score, with higher jumps and faster spins resulting in more points. Slapping the bull at any point during the ride or slipping from the bull's back before the judge blows the whistle means no points, and no paycheck, for the cowboy.

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