Bareback Riding combines extreme physical strength with the ability to adjust to the motions of the horse in a split second. It is one of rodeo’s most physically demanding events, taking a heavy toll on the cowboy’s body. A successful ride depends on the cowboy’s spurring technique and his ability to look good while being tossed about on the back of the bucking bronc. As there is nothing attached to the horse’s head, the cowboy never knows exactly where that horse is going, and must take what suprises come in stride. The cowboy once again is required to hang on with one hand only to a specialized piece of equipment called a bareback rigging which fits over the withers (top of the back above the shoulders) and is attached by a cinch around the belly.
Saddle Bronc Riding
Saddle Bronc Riding is a classic rodeo event requiring strength, style, grace and precise timing. The rider must synchronize his moves with the motion of the horse, the performance goal being a smooth ride and a high score. A thick rope rein is attached to the horses halter and the cowboy is seated in a special “bronc saddle”. If the rider touches any part of the horse or his own body with his free hand he is disqualified.
Bull Riding is the most dangerous event in rodeo and likewise the most popular with spectators. Every bull is unique, with different dispositions and styles of bucking. Some bulls buck straight ahead, some are “spinners”, bucking and jumping in tight circles and some bulls, the “bad” bulls, have only one thing in mind, physical revenge. Serious injury or death are always a possibility to riders in this event. The bulls used in this event weigh in at a ton or more and often have dangerous horns. Bull riding requires balance, flexibility, coordination, quick reflexes and intense physical strength. Courage is also a prerequisite for a bull rider. Riders are judged on their form and style and are disqualified if they touch the animal with the free hand.
Protective equipment wore by bull riders, such as vests and headgear are becoming more prominent in the arena. The protective vest worn by many athletes was invented by PBR Vice President and former bronc and bull rider Cody Lambert. The vest not only absorbs shock, it dissipates it over a larger area. The vest is made of a material called Kevlar, the same material used to make bullet-proof vests. Since the athletes began wearing the vests, the number of internal injuries has dropped dramatically. (Source: Professional Bull Riders Association).
Steer Wrestling is one of the quickest events in rodeo and also one of the most challenging. The cowboy must leap onto the steer from a galloping horse and wrestled the steer to the ground. Steers usually weigh more than twice the weight of a cowboy so strength coupled with speed and precision are important.
Calf Roping showcases the skills of both the cowboy and his horse. The cowboy must throw his rope accurately and the horse must pull back hard enough to take of the slack in the rope, but not so hard as too pull the calf of it’s feet. Horses are trained to come to a stop after the calf is caught and to watch the calf at all times, keeping the rope tight. After the cowboy has tied the calf’s legs, the cowboy mounts his horse and moves forward to create slack in the rope. For a qualifying score, the calf must stay tied and not kick free. The combination of the cowboy’s skill with a rope, coordination and sprinting ability and the horse’s athleticism come into play in this fast paced event.
Team roping also known as heading and heeling is a rodeo event that features a steer (typically a Corriente ) and two mounted cowboys. The steers are moved through narrow pathways leading to a chute with spring loaded doors. A rope of designated length determined by the length of the box is fastened around the steer’s neck which is used to ensure that the steer gets a head start. On one side of the chute is the header whose job is to rope the steer around the horns, neck or half-head, and turn the steer to the left. On the other side of the chute is the heeler whose job is to rope the steer around the hind legs.
The header sits on his horse to the left of the steer in an area called the box . A taut rope fastened with an easily broken string called the barrier runs in front of the header and is fastened to the rope on the steer. When the header is ready, s/he calls for the steer and the chute help trips a lever opening the doors. The suddenly freed steer breaks out running. When the steer reaches the end of the rope, the string breaks and simultaneously releases the barrier. The header must rope the steer around the horns and then take a dally , that is a couple of wraps of the rope around the horn of the saddle. Speed is important and some have lost fingers in this event. Once the header has made the dally, he will turn his horse and the steer will follow, still running.
The heeler waits until the header has turned the steer. When he has a clear way, he throws a loop of rope under the running steer’s hind legs and catches them. As soon as the steer is stretched out, an official waves a flag and the time is taken. The steer is released and trots off. There is a 5 second penalty for roping only one hind leg and a 10 second penalty for breaking the barrier.
The event takes between 4 and 12 seconds for a professional team. Originally cowboys employed this same technique on the open range to work cattle.
Barrel racing , is a rodeo event that features a horse or barrel racer and one rider, running a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in a triangular arrangement.
The cowgirl or cowboy (though barrel racing is traditionally a women’s event, at the non-professional level many men also compete) will take a running start on his/her horse and ride towards the first barrel. At the first barrel, a rider should come at a slight angle. It’s easier on the horse if you don’t come at it straight on. They must make a complete turn around the barrel then race toward the second barrel. At the second barrel, they will again make a complete turn, which means they will make the turn in the opposite direction as the first barrel then accelerate toward the third barrel. At the third barrel they will again make a complete loop in the same direction as the second barrel and then run back across the starting line which also serves as the finish line.
The racer may go to the right barrel first and turn it to the right and the second and third barrel to the left, or he/she can choose to go to the left barrel first in the triangular shaped pattern and turn it to the left and the other two to the right. The choice of which barrel to go to first is usually made by the racer based on the specific abilities of his/her horse and if they turn better to the right or to the left. The racers will pass through an electronic timer entering and leaving the barrel pattern and the elapsed time is the time for the event. However, if the racer tips a barrel over, he/she will be pentalized by getting five seconds added to their time and in this competion where thousandths of seconds make the difference between first and second place, the extra five seconds will entirely take the racer out of the competition.
Since going wide around a barrel is slower, a delicate balance of speed and control must be made to achieve the fastest times. The time of the event is affected by the size of the arena in which the event is held and the distance between each barrel relative to the others and the time line. The stardard barrel pattern looks like an isosceles triangle with a base of 90 feet and sides each of 105 feet. The distance from the first barrel to the time line is 60 feet. These distances can be adjusted to fit the size of the arena in which the event is held, but the distance between the corner barrels and the top barrel must be equal.
A cowboy hat is part of the dress code for the event; if the riders hat falls off during a race, a rider will be fined $10-$25. This fine is unique to barrel-racing, though it is falling out of favor in non-professional competitions. The western shirt ,jeans , cowboy boots, and western belt (usually with a prize buckle the competitor has won) complete the dress-code of the barrel racing event.
The sport is governed by several bodies. The Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) governs on the professional level and several amateur associations exist, including the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA).