Have you ever been hanging out at the rodeo, and not really been sure what was happening? Not sure why everyone is cheering, or perhaps booing? Not sure who’s supposed to be doing what? No worries — you’re not alone, and you’ve come to the right place for help.
Most rodeos feature seven main events, and all seven may be divided into two simple categories: timed events, and roughstock events. We’re using this post to discuss the first category, which are precisely what their title implies — the fastest competitor is deemed the winner. Most modern rodeos use electronic timing equipment, making the results an extremely precise science. There are four main timed events:
1. Steer Wrestling (aka Bulldogging)
The goal: Tackle a running steer to the ground. The cowboy in this timed event must dismount a horse headed through the arena at full-steam to tackle a steer that is running just as fast. This is the most taxing of the timed events, and the one in which injury is most likely to occur to the contestant, as the rider is literally swapping position between a galloping horse and a steer, and after transferring between running animals, has to manipulate a steer that outweighs him by roughly 300 pounds, often sporting horns.
What to watch for: The rider must allow the steer a head start in order to avoid a penalty of ten seconds added to his time. This is accomplished by placing a rope barrier in front of the rider, which is released as the steer leaves the chute. Additionally, if the steer trips, lies down, or otherwise ends up on the ground of its own doing, it must be returned to its feet and taken down by the wrestler instead. Failure to land the steer, or losing contact with it prior to landing it results in a “no score.”
2. Team Roping
The goal: Rope a running steer by the head and hooves. Two riders are featured in this event, demonstrating a very practical element of ranch work. The first rider must rope the steer by the head, and change its direction to allow the other rider to rope its hind legs. When the ropes are taut and the horses face each other, time is marked.
What to watch for: There are many rules in team roping that must be followed, and rules may vary in according to different rodeo associations. Two nearly universal rules are the same barrier rule used in the bulldogging, resulting in the same ten-second penalty, and a five-second penalty if only one leg is captured.
3. Tie-Down Roping
The goal: Immobilize a running calf via roping and rope-tying skills. In this event, a calf is let loose in the arena, and the contestant is to rope it and tie its legs faster than any other contestant. This is the most complex single-person event, requiring speed, roping precision, agility, strength, and dexterity.
What to watch for: Following the barrier rule, the cowboy must make a quick break from his chute, immediately rope the running calf, dismount and run to it, set it on its side, and securely rope all four legs. All in all, that’s a lot of things that can go wrong in a few brief seconds, and failure in the completion of any of them can result in anything from added penalty time to disqualification.
4. Barrel Racing
The goal: Race a horse in a predetermined pattern amongst three set barrels for the fastest time. This is the sport of the fairer sex, and provides great excitement in watching extremely skilled riders managing horses that fairly fly through the arena. These cowgirls are so good at what they do that it requires the timing to be measured to the hundredth of a second, and often only a few hundredths separate the winner from the runners-up.
What to watch for: Barrel horses are not just fast. They are tremendously agile, and able to take hairpin turns around barrels, the toppling of which results in added time. They are also extremely difficult to manage, putting incredible pressure on the rider, and a substantial amount of unpredictability into the event.
Next time we’ll talk about the roughstock events, and see how the cowboys do on a different sort of clock.