La Verne Magazine
Spring 2003

A Rodeo Primer: Racing, Wrestling, Roping, Riding and Bucking

by Meridith Zembal

Of course, there's more to rodeo than the the atmosphere-there are the events. Two categories in the sport of rodeo are the timed events ­ barrel racing, steer wrestling, team roping, calf roping and steer roping, and then there are the roughstock events ­ bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding.

Barrel Racing

This event started with a group of Texas women who wanted to be a part of the tough, man-run rodeo. Three barrels are placed in a clover formation (picture a triangle). The rider shoots out and heads for either the left or right barrel. Once completely circling that barrel, the rider travels the 90 feet to the other base barrel. After riding around the barrel, the rider must circle it at the peak of the clover formation, then race back to the starting line.

Steer Wrestling

The object is to wrestle a steer using leverage and brute strength to get it to the ground. Steer wrestlers are often referred to as "bulldoggers" and must be strong and athletic to reach their goal. The wrestler, on horseback, waits for the steer's head start, then slides down the right side of his horse and grabs the steer's horns. By digging his heels in, the cowboy can work the steer on to the ground.

Team Roping

Modeled after the way ranchers used to catch calves for branding or for medical treatment, team roping is the only real rodeo team event. Similar to wrestling, the calf gets a head start. The "header" is the first man to rope. His job is to catch the steer around the neck or around one horn and the calf's head, then "dallies" (wraps) the rope around the horn of his saddle. Then the header must ride away to turn the calf away from the "heeler." The heeler is the second man to rope. He must rope the calf's rear hooves. The clock stops after the rope is taut. This is how team roping originated, as well as calf roping.

Calf Roping

Like team roping, the calf is given a head start. The rider takes off, roping the calf, and his horse makes a quick stop. Once the calf is caught, the rope must be dallied around the horn of the saddle. Next, the cowboy must "flank" the calf (throw it to the ground) and tie any three legs of the calf together. The calf must stay tied for six seconds for the rider to receive a time. This is similar to the steer roping event.

Bareback Riding

Bareback riding is a very physically demanding sport. Broncs (horses) are very long and limber, producing a very stressful buck and kick. They can torque their bodies, producing amazing amounts of force on the body, specifically the lower back and spine. Judges score riders on their spurring technique, and the amount they are willing to lean back and take the bucks. Half the score is given for the horse's bucking action. The rider's mode of support consists of "rigging" he holds with a grasping hand. (Rigging is thick leather and rawhide strap that is fastened to the horse.) The rider must stay on for eight seconds to receive a score, and the free hand of the rider must not touch the bronc at all during the ride.

Saddle Bronc Riding

This event is similar to bareback riding, but as implied, it is with a saddle and is a rodeo classic. It began when riders were forced to stay on while breaking and training horses. A controlled ride in rhythm with the horse once again is required for a high score. As it is for bareback, the eight-second ride is necessary to earn a score.

Bull Riding

The most awaited event of the whole rodeo, bull riding, takes power, guts and a whole lot of strength. Bulls can weigh up to 2,000 lbs., but are still quick and can be dangerous if the rider falls into a bad position. The rodeo clowns often put their lives on the line for the riders to escape to the fence for safety. A flat braided rope is wrapped around the rider's hand that is secured on the bull. The rider's free hand must not touch the bull during the 8-second ride to receive a score.