Have you ever been hanging 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. In our last post, we discussed the timed events, and how they are scored. Roughstock events are different, in that while they are “on the clock”, they are also scored by two judges, one of whom is giving marks to the rider, while the other is giving his attention to the animal. The total of both their marks are combined to make the complete score, and the rider with the highest score wins the event. There are three roughstock events, and they are:
1. Bareback Riding
The goal: Ride a bucking horse for eight seconds, unaided by controlling tack. The only aid the rider is given in this event is a small rigging to keep a single hand in contact with the horse. There is no bridle, no bit, no reins, no saddle, so steering or stopping, and no way to know what will happen. Complicating the sport is the fact his only one hand may be used in the ride, and touching any part of the horse, or his own body with the free hand, will result in disqualification.
What to watch for: Bronc riders are required to “mark out” their ride, meaning that their spurs must maintain contact above the horse’s shoulders through the first jump, demonstrating to the judges that they are in position. (You’ll know he has failed to do this if you see a yellow flag thrown on the arena floor early, football-style.) The ride is scored based on the severity of the bucking action and the rider’s consistent spurring action.
2. Saddle Bronc Riding
The goal: Ride a bucking horse for eight seconds, using a small saddle and rein. Similarities between bareback and saddle bronc riding exist, but the style is radically different. The rules are essentially the same — mark out, spur, and maintain single-hand contact — but adds the requirement of maintaining contact with the specially designed stirrups as well. This is considered the “original” rodeo sport, and speaking personally, it is my favorite, matching man against beast in a feat of ranch-savvy strength.
What to watch for: While bareback horses tend to be faster and more graceful, saddle broncs are more violent and brutal to the rider. Ferocious bucks can easily send a rider flying, but will result in either a buckoff for a zero-score, or a high score, rewarding the cowboy’s strength and endurance.
3. Bull Riding
The goal: Ride a bull for eight seconds. The most volatile of the rodeo events, this disaster-prone ride puts a cowboy on the back of an untameable creature, bred for the purpose of eliminating the rider from his seat. As many great riders as there are, this event is controlled by the bull, whose sheer size and strength dominates every part of the ride. Injuries are not uncommon, and have the potential of considerable severity. For this reason, bull riding tends to be the most popular event at a rodeo, and almost any rider covering all eight seconds is cheered loudly.
What to watch for: There are fewer specific rules in the bull riding, partially due the the extreme unpredictability of the event. Staying mounted isn’t good enough for a high score, though. Judges are looking for the bull to give the rider the biggest challenge with high bucks, direction changes, and jarring moves, and for the rider to show that he can handle the bull’s moves by staying in position as much as possible. When the ride is over, that doesn’t mean the show is over, though, as the rider still has to exit the arena, and this can prove to be as difficult to navigate and deleterious to his health as the ride!