Reaching the overall winner’s podium at the end of each season is no easy task. It takes consistency, skill, guts and a little luck. If last year’s tight-as-a-belt-buckle rodeo season was any indication, this year will be no exception, with some of the best rodeo athletes in the country duking it out for the end-of-the-year champion honors. Each event often comes down to the fence wire, with many category winners determined by the last ride or run of the season. Following is a synopsis of each event you’ll see at Romick Arena as well as a few riders to root for who have a shot at the overall title.
The most physically demanding event in a pro rodeo may be bareback riding. Cowboys use one hand to grasp a leather “rigging” to stay on the horse and are judged on their spurring technique and bucking action of the horse. To score higher points, riders must turn the toes of their boots outward and lean way back. No score will be given if the cowboy does not “mark out” the horse. Judges watch closely to ensure that as the horse comes out of the chute, the cowboy’s feet are above its shoulders. The feet must remain there until the horse’s front feet hit the ground. A bareback rider must remain on the animal for eight seconds.
Team roping demands close cooperation between two cowboys (“header” and “heeler”) and their horses. The steer is given a head start as the header waits behind a rope barrier. If the header breaks the barrier, a 10-second penalty is assessed. The heeler follows. The header is the first one to rope and must catch the steer either around the horns, neck, or one horn and the head. As soon as the header secures the loop, he “dallies” the rope around the saddle horn and rides to the left, turning the steer away from a right-handed heeler. As the header rides away, the heeler tries to rope the steer’s hind feet. A five-second penalty is assessed if the heeler catches only one foot. The two riders then back their horses to take the slack out of their ropes. The clock stops when all the slack has been taken up and the ropers are facing one another.
After giving the calf a head start, the horse and rider begin their chase. As the cowboy throws his loop, the horse comes to a stop. With his horse still skidding to a stop, the cowboy dismounts, runs to the calf, throws it to the ground and ties any three legs together with a “pigging string.” The horse must keep slack out of the rope but not pull so tight that the calf is dragged. When the roper finishes tying, he throws his hands in the air to signal to the flag judge. Then, he gets back on his horse and rides toward the calf, putting slack back into the rope. The calf must remain tied for six seconds after the rope is slack or the cowboy will receive a “no time.”
Steer wrestlers, also known as bulldoggers, try to toss a steer onto its back after jumping off a quarter horse. Courage, timing and balance are essential. The objective: Get the steer on the ground the fastest using only strength and leverage. Done correctly, the event takes only three to five seconds. The cowboy starts his run behind a barrier with another cowboy called a hazer, who keeps the steer from turning away. The steer is then given a head start. When it reaches the “scoreline” and the rope barrier is released, the steer wrestler and the hazer chase the steer until the wrestler can make his jump. The wrestler then hooks his right arm around the steer’s right horn, grasps the left horn with his left hand and digs his heels into the dirt and uses leverage to bring down the animal.
Saddle Bronc Riding
Unlike bareback riding, where the cowboy grabs a rigging fastened to the horse’s back, a saddle bronc rider grips a thick rein attached to the horse’s halter. He must then mark out the horse as in bareback riding. As the horse bucks, the rider bends his knees to pull his heels back and then snaps his feet back to the horse’s shoulder as the animal’s front feet hit the ground, synchronizing spurring with the horse’s movements. The rider is judged on spurring action, body control and the degree to which he keeps his toes turned out. The horse’s bucking action contributes to the score, just as in bareback riding.
The goal of barrel racing is to run a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in the fastest time. The horses pivot on their haunches at high speeds and execute each turn with only inches to spare. Normally, quarter horses are used in barrel racing. A knocked-over barrel incurs a five-second penalty.
In what is hoped to be an eight-second ride, the rider holds a flat-braided rope in his glove hand. As he settles onto his bull in the chute, he pulls the rope’s tail through a loop and wraps the rope around his riding hand, at times weaving it through his fingers for better grip. Each bull has a different style of bucking; some spin, others circle, others throw in jumps or kicks, and others move sideways in mid-air. As the cowboy waves his free hand to counter the bull’s gyration and maintain his balance, he must avoid touching the bull with his free hand or he is disqualified. The cowboy’s control and the bull’s bucking efforts each account for half of the score.
Ranch Bronc Riding
On the ranch, cowboys need to be prepared for a horse to buck any time and any place and have the skill necessary to stay on. In the ranch bronc riding event — which will take place as part of the WRCA’s Ranch Rodeo on July 2 as well as on July 4, July 31 and Aug. 1, Aug. 7 and 8, Aug. 14 and 15 and Aug. 21 and 22 — horses are saddled as they would be for everyday use with a regular working saddle, with cowboys using a one-rein bucking horse halter for control. Points are awarded for the difficulty of the horse and degree of effort, control and exposure demonstrated by the rider.