This ain’t my first rodeo, but it might be yours!

So you’re finally going to your first rodeo! Like other sports, rodeo has its own rules and lingo. There are a few things you need to know if you want to understand what’s going on. This beginner’s photo guide to the sport of rodeo will help you make the most of your first rodeo experience. You may be a newbie, but you don’t need to look like one.

Bareback Riding

Image of a cowboy riding bareback at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The cowboy rides a bucking horse without a saddle using a hand harness only and must stay on the bronco for 8 seconds. Cowboys hold on with one hand. Their free can’t touch the horse or themselves or the rider will be disqualified.

Image of a cowboy riding bareback at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The rider must have both spurs touching the horse over the shoulders until the horses’s feet hit the ground after the initial move from the chute. This is called “marking out.” If the cowboy fails to do this, he is disqualified.

Image of a cowboy riding bareback at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The rider and the horse are each scored out of 50 by judges to give a score out of 100. Horses are judged on their power, speed and agility. Riders are judged on their control and spurring technique. A rider’s toes should remain turned out when he’s spurring.

Tie-down Roping

Image of a cowboy roping a calf at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The calf is released from a shoot and given a predetermined head start. If the cowboy “breaks the barrier” and the calf does not get the head start, a 10 second penalty is added to the time.

Image of a cowboy throwing a calf in the tie-down roping event at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The calf must be thrown to the ground by hand. A well-trained horse plays a major role in a cowboy’s  success. The horse walks backward to keep the rope taut, so the cowboy can do his job.

Image of the tie-down roping event at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The cowboy dismounts his horse and must drop the calf to the ground and then tie three legs together. The calf must remained tied for 5 seconds. The fastest time wins this event.

Saddle Bronc Riding

Image of a cowboy saddle bronc riding at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

In saddle bronc riding, the cowboy sits in a saddle with stirrups and has a single rein to hold onto. The rider cannot touch the horse with his free hand.

Image of a cowboy saddle bronc riding at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The rider must stay on the bronco for 8 seconds and both the horse and the rider are given a score out of 50 and the two scores are added together for a mark out of 100. High score wins. As with bareback riding, riders are judged on their control and spurring technique.

Barrel Racing

Image of barrel racing at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The cowgirls barrel race. Rider and horse must work together to circle three barrels that are placed into a triangular formation.

Image of barrel racing at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

If barrel is knocked over a 5 second time penalty is added to their overall time in this timed event.

Image of barrel racing at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

Cowgirls may stablize the barrel with their free hand to prevent it from being knocked over. Best time wins.

Steer Wrestling

Image of steer wrestling at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

Steer wrestling requires two riders to work together. The steer is given a predetermined head start and an outrider helps keep the steer running straight down the rodeo arena.

Image of steer wrestling at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The cowboy slides off of his horse and onto the steer. He brings the steer to a stop and then he wrestles it to the ground.

Image of steer wrestling at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

If the cowboy “breaks the barrier” and the steer is not given the predetermined head start, a 10 second penalty is imposed. This is a timed event and the quickest time wins.

Bull Riding

Image of bull riding at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

Bull riding requires a cowboy to stay on the back of a one ton bull for 8 seconds. The cowboy is not allowed to touch the bull with his free hand.

Image of bull riding at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

The bull and the cowboy are each judged out of 50 and the two scores are added together to give a mark out of 100. The judges look for style and bucking intensity.

Image of a rodeo clown and a bull at the Calgary Stampede rodeo

Rodeo clowns play an important role to distract angry bulls from their riders after the rider has been bucked off or completed the 8 second ride and dismounted.

So there it is. Your beginner’s guide to the main events of rodeo. Some rodeos also have a team roping event, but I took these photos at the 2018 Calgary Stampede and it wasn’t part of the lineup. You might also see mutton busting (children riding sheep) and chuckwagon racing. Rodeo is a great western tradition and hopefully your first rodeo won’t be your last.

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