Facebook Twitter Instagram Snapchat
Home > About > Rodeo 101

Rodeo 101

Rodeo is still one place where you can take the whole family and know that the National Anthem will play, and American Flag will fly. It is truly an American sport.

The Rodeo Cowboy

To spectators in the grandstands, the rodeo cowboy might seem to be the embodiment of a fading American dream, a rugged individual with no bosses to answer to, no time clocks to punch, no rigid workday schedules to follow. All that may be true. But rodeo life is also tough, a long shot at fame and fortune and a better shot at broken bones and long roads.

Events sanctioned by the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association comprise one of the fastest-growing sports in America. But, to the cowboys and cowgirls who compete, rodeo is more than a sport – it’s a lifestyle that offers heartbreak and reward in equal measures. The cowboy doesn’t compete at rodeo as much as he lives it.

Rodeo encompasses the attributes America covets in its sports – explosive action, danger, extraordinary skill, and refined talent – and the cowboys who ride are some of the most rugged individuals in athletics.

Cowboys still drive pickups, still work cattle, still say “ma’am” and “sir,” and still wear jeans and boots. But today’s cowboy is a businessman as well as an athlete, as likely to have refined his skills at a rodeo school as on a ranch.

They pursue glory in the dust and rain of rodeo arenas across North America. But unlike other professional athletes, the rodeo cowboy pays for the privilege to compete. Every rodeo requires an entry fee and promises nothing in return. The cowboy doesn't get paid unless he produces. One missed throw, one lost grip and the cowboy doesn't even recoup his entry fee.

Rodeo is demanding, but the life of the American cowboy has never been easy. Professional rodeo is the only American sport that evolved from skills required in a work situation, and it’s one of the most punishing sports in the world. The events of professional rodeo were drawn directly from the tasks of the range cowboy – primarily roping calves and riding broncs. The typical cowboy of the 19th century worked 18-hour days, seven days per week. And on any given day, he might be thrown from a horse or charged by a wild steer.

The demands faced by today’s rodeo cowboy are different, but no less daunting. Behind every eight-second ride and every cheering crowd are countless hours of traveling and competing.

The cowboy’s life is a special one, envied by many and experienced by few.

The Rodeo Events

Rodeos are steeped in the traditions of the old west. Each event is in some way connected to the skills and abilities required on the working ranches and open range that are a part of our heritage. Today’s cowboys and cowgirls keep these skills alive, at home and in rodeo arenas across America. Whether a participant or a spectator, you will appreciate the skills and qualities of the athletes and animals that make rodeo the popular sport that it is.

Saddle Bronc
Considered rodeo’s "classic event", requires the use of a specialized saddle with free-swinging stirrups and no horn. The rider grips a single bronc rein braided from cotton or polyester attached to a leather halter worn by the horse. The rider lifts the rein, attempting to find a rhythm with the horse by spurring forwards and backwards, reaching from the shoulder of the horse back to the cantle of the saddle. At no time can he touch the horse or himself with his free arm or hand, nor can he switch the rein to the other hand or loose a stirrup.

Cowboys must "mark out" their horses; that is, they must exit the chute with their spurs above the horse's shoulders and hold them there until the horse's front feet hit the ground after its first jump. Failing to do so results in disqualification. The cowboy must complete an 8 second ride to get a score.

When the ride is over the pick-up men race up beside the bronc and help the cowboy dismount and land safely on the ground. The cowboy is judged on his control and spurring technique. The horse is judged on its power, speed, and agility. It takes both a good rider and a good horse to earn a top score.

Team Roping
Team roping is the only two person event in rodeo in which each participant earns a score. Like tie down roping and saddle bronc riding, the origin of team roping is rooted in the ranch chores of the old west. On the ranch, the strength and size of the cattle required two ropers to catch and immobilize them for branding and doctoring.

Team ropers start from the roping box where a rope barrier is stretched across the opening and tied to steer. Once the steer reaches the head start point, the barrier is automatically released. The first cowboy out of the box, the header, does just what the name implies and ropes the head of the steer. Once the catch is made the header dallies, or wraps his rope around his saddle horn, and turns the steer to the left. The second cowboy, the heeler, ropes the “heels” (back legs). The clock is stopped when ropes are tight and the horses are facing each other with their front feet on the ground.

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Out of the box, if the barrier is broken too early a 10 second penalty is added to the time. If the heeler catches only one leg, that’s a 5 second penalty. And…. only three catches made by the header are legal; both horns, one horn and the head, or all the way around the neck. Team roping requires coordination and cooperation between both riders and their horses. Truly a team effort, it’s a great event to watch and study!

Steer Wrestling
Also known as bulldogging, steer wrestling is the quickest of the rodeo events. It requires strength, speed, and timing. Cowboys compete against the clock and each other. Like tie-down and team ropers, steer wrestlers begin in the roping box where a rope barrier is stretched across the opening and tied to the steer. When the cowboy nods his head the steer is released from the chute. Once the steer reaches the head start point, the barrier is automatically released and off to the races they go, cowboy and horse chasing down the steer. The cowboy catches up to the steer as quickly as possible, leans off his horse, and grabs the steer by its head. As he slides off his saddle, the steer wrestler plants his feet and wrestles the steer to the ground. The clock stops when the steer is on its side.

Steer wrestlers require the use of another cowboy on horseback, the “hazer,” who keeps the steer running straight. Although a second cowboy is involved in this event, only the steer wrestler gets the time. A winning time is usually between 3 to 4 seconds. Like the roping events, breaking the barrier early results in a 10 second penalty which effectively puts the cowboy out of the money.

Barrel Racing
Barrel racing is a timed event where speed matters most. Cowgirls compete in the arena against the clock and each other. Barrel racing is about cooperation between horse and rider. It combines the horse's athletic ability and the horsemanship skills of a rider in order to safely and successfully maneuver a horse in a pattern around three barrels.

Barrels are set up at three specific arena locations. Cowgirls enter the arena and then, at full speed, quickly round each barrel in a cloverleaf pattern and then exit the arena where they entered. The rider can decide whether to go to the left or the right barrel first. The approach to the first barrel is a critical moment in executing a successful pattern; the rider must rate her horse's speed at the right moment to enter the correct path to make a perfect turn.

An electronic timer records the ride to a hundredth of a second. Because speed equates to a winning time, riders steer their horses as close to the barrels as possible without knocking them over, attempting to shave precious seconds off the clock. For each barrel knocked over a 5 second penalty is assessed to the cowgirl’s total time. Leaving the barrels standing and ripping through the course is every barrel racers goal. These cowgirls ride with skill, grit and determination.

Tie-down Roping
Once known as calf roping, tie-down roping is the classic ranch chore of the old west, and is now one of the most competitive of rodeo events. Tie-down ropers compete against each other and the clock for prize money.

Like steer wrestlers and team ropers, tie-down ropers begin in the roping box. The calf is released from a chute and the cowboy must rope it as quickly as possible. Like team roping, the calf is given a head start and if the barrier is broken too quickly the cowboy is penalized ten seconds. As soon as the catch is made the cowboy dismounts, sprints to the calf and tosses it on its side (called flanking.) Using a small rope known as a pigging string, usually held in the cowboy's teeth, any three of the calf's legs are then securely tied. Time stops when the cowboy throws up his hands. Sound easy? It’s not over yet. After the tie, the roper remounts his horse, puts slack in the rope and waits 6 seconds for the calf to struggle free. If it does, the cowboy receives a “no time” and is disqualified from the round. If the calf remains tied the cowboy receives his time.

Tie-down roping requires timing, speed, agility, strength, and a well trained horse. Horses in the tie-down play a major role in the success of the competitor. They are trained to know when to start walking backward, keeping the rope taught and allowing the cowboy to do his business on the other end. It is amazing to watch as cowboy and horse compete together in this modern sporting event.

Bareback Bronc
The most physically demanding of all rodeo events, bareback bronc riding is rough and explosive. Cowboys ride untrained horses with no saddle or rein. They sit bareback and hold on tight to a leather rigging that looks like a heavy piece of rope with a suitcase handle on the end. The cowboys ride one handed and cannot touch their body or the horse with the free hand. The cowboys spur the horse between shoulder and rigging, keeping in rhythm with the horse, trying for a qualifying 8 second ride. Once the ride is complete, pick up men rush in to 'pick up' the cowboy and help him safely to the ground.

As with saddle bronc riding, cowboys must "mark out" their horses; they must exit the chute with their spurs set above the horse's shoulders and hold them there until the horse's front feet hit the ground after its first jump. Failing to do so results in disqualification.

Cowboys are judged on their control and spurring technique while the horses are judged on power, speed, and agility. Because of the power and quickness of the horse, cowboys take a great deal of punishment on their arm, neck, and back. This is a tough business!

Bull Riding
Perhaps the most recognized and popular of all rodeo events, bull riding is also the most dangerous. With bull riding, the cowboys say "it's not if you get hurt, but when." Every bull rider can attest to the truth behind that saying.

Bull riders hang on with one hand and cannot touch the bull or their body with their free hand. Doing so results in a “no score.” To ride, cowboys use a bull rope and rosin. The bull rope is thickly braided, with a braided handle and a cowbell attached. The cowbell acts as a weight, allowing the rope to safely fall off the bull when the ride is over. Rosin is a sticky substance that increases the cowboy’s grip on their rope. The rope is wrapped around the bull, with the remaining tail secured tightly around the cowboy’s hand. This secures the cowboy to the bull. They become one. Sound fun?

There is no mark out in bull riding. Cowboys can spur for extra points, but staying on the bull for a full 8 seconds is the priority! Again, a top score depends on both the rider and the animal. A score of 100 is a “perfect ride” and seldom earned.

After the ride, the cowboy is aided by bullfighters (those rodeo clowns) and the barrel men who distract the bull, allowing the cowboys to escape safely. Riding a bull requires balance, flexibility, coordination, and courage. Facing down a two-thousand pound animal takes as much mental preparation as it does physical ability.

Breakaway Roping
Breakaway roping in the CPRA is a ladies only event. Cowgirls compete against each other and the clock for prize money.

Like tie-down roping, breakaway ropers begin in the roping box. The cowgirls rope is tied to their saddle horn with a string. The calf is released from a chute and the cowgirl must rope it as quickly as possible. The calf is given a head start and if the barrier is broken too quickly the cowgirl is penalized ten seconds.

As soon as the catch is made the cowgirl signals their horse to stop suddenly. When the calf hits the end of the rope, the rope is pulled tight and the string breaks. The breaking of the string marks the end of the run. The rope usually has a small white flag at the end that makes the moment the rope breaks more easily seen by the timer. The fastest run wins.

The Rodeo Crew

The cowboys and the animals are the stars, the obvious centers of attention... But the stars of rodeo would never shine if it were not for the work of a large supporting cast, a cast that includes announcers, stock contractors, rodeo secretaries, timers, pickup men, chute crew, specialty-act personnel and rodeo producers. These are the people who work in the arena and behind the scenes during each rodeo event, helping to ensure the safety of contestants and animals alike.

Pickup Men
Pickup men race in to help cowboys off the rough stock when their 8 second ride is complete.

Pickup men assist the saddle bronc and bareback riders to dismount after their rides, and to help free cowboys who get hung up in their rigging. After assisting the cowboy they then loosen the flank strap that is tightened like a belt around the flank of the horse. Once the strap is pulled from the horse the pickup men herd the animal to the exit gate to clear the area for the next contestant. They also work to coax the bulls to the exit gate when their ride is done.

While most spectators focus on the event participants, attention to the skills of the pickup men and their horse is well worth the attention. Pickup men are true cowboys who apply the roping and riding skills of the old west.

Stock Contractor
Stock contractors bring the animal athletes for the cowboys to test their skills.

In 2009 Jesse Hill and JD Hamaker joined forces to create H&H Rodeo Company, LLC. Today, H&H is one of the top stock contractors in the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association, as witnessed by their many award winning animals nominated for the CPRA finals. Their goal is to provide stock that every contestant has a chance of winning on.

Jesse and JD have been friends since college where they both competed in rough stock events. They both went on to have accomplished careers competing professionally. With the love of the sport deeply implanted in them, at the turn of the century both men began purchasing and raising bucking stock. Jesse and his wife Susan live in and raise bucking bulls in Franktown, Colorado. JD and his wife Candy live in and raise bucking horses in Centennial, Wyoming. JD's three boys, Ty, Blaze and Colt, all help with the rodeo company.

Bull Fighters & Rodeo Clowns
Bull fighters and rodeo clowns have one main mission – to protect the cowboys from the bulls. These skilled performers work as either bullfighters, barrel men, or entertainer, each whose job is to distract the bull long enough to allow the cowboy to safely escape the arena. They sometimes place themselves in harm’s way, jeopardizing their own well being for the safety of the cowboy. Agile, athletic and pulling off some acrobatic moves, clowns entertain contestants and spectators alike! Who doesn’t love a rodeo clown!

J.D. has been a rodeo clown for 18 years and loves every minute of it. J.D. has worked rodeos, bull riding's and rough stock events in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado. He has been the barrel man at the CPRA finals several years.

Rough Stock Crew
This amazing crew assist the stock contractor in the care of the animals as they are guided into the chutes to prepare for their ride. They also aid the cowboys in mounting and adjusting their equipment, and open the chute gate when the cowboy indicates he is ready to ride. They keep the announcer and timers informed throughout the event so they can share with the crowd the names of the cowboys and animals coming out of the chute.

When the ride is over and the horse or bull exits the arena, this crew eases the animals through the "stripping chute" where the rigging is removed. After the rigging is removed, the animals are taken back to their pen or stall to relax.

At the end of the night, this crew also assists the stock contractor in feeding and caring for the animals. These guys are key to successful rough stock events.

Judges have an important role in Rodeo. Without the judges there would be no scores and without the scores there would be no winners! Depending upon the event, you might see the judges on horseback or a-foot.

Among their numerous responsibilities are evaluating the contestants and the animals in each event, as both may earn a score. During the roping and wrestling events they monitor the barrier rope to ensure a fair start for the calf or steer. The calves are timed in the tie-down to ensure that their legs are securely tied for at least 6 seconds. Perhaps most importantly, judges ensure the humane treatment of animals. These are but a few of the many rules of rodeo.

Announcers & Timers
Perched above the arena in the “crows nest” the announcer and timers have a bird’s eye view of the arena and chutes; they keep track of events, contestants, animal athletes, scores, and times.

The rodeo announcer keeps us informed of what is happening in the arena. Well versed in the sport of rodeo they educate, inform, and entertain spectators. They serve as host for the evening’s event, lead us in honoring the American Flag, and banter with the clowns. They are the thread that weaves it all together.

Timers keep the official time of the timed events, sound the buzzer after eight seconds in the rough stock events and keep the announcer informed of the official times and scores and the name of the cowboy or cowgirl that is in the arena.

Back to