Montana's First Lady of Rodeo...

All About Rodeo

Rodeo Information, Contests and Personnel


All About Rodeo

Rodeo has a unique quality of origin to which no other professional sport can lay claim. It emerged from an industry - from the daily routine and tasks of a low paying job with long hours performed by ranch hands who came to know very well the animals with which they lived.

If it were any other kind of job, leisure hours might have produced another kind of ball game rather than a recreation involving the very animals one had already spent long hours tending. But cowboying has always been more of a way of life than a job or an opportunity to get rich.

Critics speak of an inherent cruelty in rodeo - that rodeo can't exist without being cruel to animals - that there is something in the very nature of rodeo that is harmful to animals. Those kind of comments are contrary to a rodeo's origin.



The Contests

Rodeo contests are divided into two categories:

     1. Those which are scored by a judge. The rough stock events of bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding; and

     2. Those which are timed for speed. Cowgirls barrel racing, steer wrestling, and the roping contests.

Riding broncs and roping calves are the events that were born on Western ranches.

Being able to rope a calf or steer on the open range was a necessary skill if an animal required attention.

Riding a bronky kind of horse was part of the territory, as many horses were green broke at best.

The contests of riding and roping require only two things of the horses and cattle... either to buck or to run, actions that are natural.

If you think about all the different disciplines in which horses are used... showing, racing, jumping, pleasure riding, etc.... some kind of equipment is worn by the horse and something is used to communicate instructions to the animal.


The Contests

Bareback Bronc Riding
The event is judged according to the performances of both the rider and the bucking horse. It is a single-handhold, eight-second ride which starts with the cowboy’s feet held in a position over the break of the horse’s shoulders until the horse’s front feet touch the ground first jump out of the chute. The rider earns points maintaining upper body control while moving his feet in a toes-turned-out rhythmic motion in time with the horse’s bucking action.

Steer Wrestling
This event was originally called "bull dogging" and requires the cowboy to lean from the running horse onto the back of a 600 pound steer, catch it behind the horns, stop the steer’s forward momentum and wrestle it to the ground with all four of its legs and head pointing the same direction. The bulldogger is assisted by the hazer, who rides along the steer’s right to keep the animal running straight.

Saddle Bronc Riding
Known as rodeo’s classic event, saddle bronc riding is judged similarly to bareback bronc riding but there are additional possibilities to being disqualified; that is, losing a stirrup or dropping the thickly braided rein that is attached to the horse’s halter. The cowboy sits on the horse differently due to the saddle and rein, and the spurring motion covers a different area of the horse. Saddle broncs are usually several hundred pounds heavier than bareback horses and generally buck in a slower manner.

Calf Roping
Calf roping is an authentic ranch skill that originated from working cowboys. Once the calf has been roped, the cowboy dismounts and runs down the length of the rope to the calf. When the calf is on the ground, the cowboy ties three legs together with a six-foot pigging string. Calves are given a head start, and if the cowboy’s horse leaves the box too soon, a barrier breaks and a 10-second penalty is added to the roper’s time. In all of the timed events, a fraction of a second makes the difference between winning and losing.

Barrel Racing
This event is a horse race with turns. The cowgirl’s time begins as she rides her horse across the starting line in the arena. She makes a run around three upright barrels, which are in a cloverleaf pattern, and back to the starting line where the clock stops. Tipping a barrel is permitted, but if it is knocked to the ground, a five-second penalty is added to her time.

Team Roping
Team roping is the only rodeo event that features two contestants. The team is made up of a header and a heeler. The header ropes the horns, then dallies or wraps his rope around his saddle horn and turns the steer to the left for the other cowboy who ropes the heels. The heeler must throw a loop with precision timing to catch both of the steer’s hind legs. The time clock stops once both ropers have made a catch and brought the animals to a stop, facing each other.

Bull Riding
Bull riders, who might not weigh more than 150 pounds, place a flat braided rope around a bull that weighs almost 2000 pounds. The bull rope is placed around the animal, just behind its shoulders. It is then looped and threaded through itself and the cowboy wraps it around his riding hand with only his grip holding him in place. The rider relies on balance and leg strength to make the eight-second buzzer. Look for bull riders to sit up close to their bull ropes and to turn their toes out because rides are judged on the riding style of the competitor and the bucking ability of the bull.


Contract Personnel

It's easy to focus on the cowboys making the rides and throwing the ropes, but none of it would happen without the invaluable help of rodeo's contract personnel.

These hard-working, dedicated people are the backbone of any rodeo production. They are the stock contractors who provide the bucking animals, the clowns who generate the laughs between events, the bullfighters who rescue fallen bull riders, the secretaries who keep track of the money and put out a variety of fires, and many others.

Some of these folks are easy to recognize, such as the clowns, bull fighters and rodeo announcers. But others are rather obscure. PRCA pickup men are rarely noticed because they are so adept at their job of helping bucking horse cowboys dismount. The chute boss keeps the rodeo stock flowing through the chutes in order, but he is virtually invisible. And the flankman, who prepares the animals for competition, is often a key player whose existence goes unknown to spectators.

There is much more happening at a rodeo than meets the eye. It's fun to observe all of these elements mixing together to create this exciting form of entertainment.


Rodeo announcers have futures in another field: rodeo history.

The amount of rodeo knowledge in one rodeo announcer's head could fill a thick college text book. They must know the rules, the animals and facts about the people involved, including all the competitors. Like announcers for any event, they must be quick on their feet, witty and possess a clear, powerful voice. It is a special job performed by special men. Rodeo announcers sometimes call the action from horseback, though most prefer a perch overlooking the arena.

Whether it is after a successful 8-second ride or in the midst of a twisting turn just out of the gate, bull riders have to find their way to the ground - and to safety. But the riders don't face this challenge alone. A brave and athletic group of professionals known as bullfighters and barrelmen are essential to the riders' escape.

Though a barrelman’s attire is similar to that of a bullfighter, his presence in the arena serves a much different purpose. A barrelman’s duty is to entertain the crowd during the “down time” that is inherent to the sport of bull riding. When bulls are being loaded or the show is on hold due to unexpected breaks, a barrelman takes over and amuses spectators with impromptu dance routines or comical dialogue with the event’s announcers. The barrelman often can be found hanging around or in a custom-made barrel placed in the arena’s center. The barrel not only protects the barrelman from a charging bull but also provides bull riders with an island of safety if he is bucked off far from the arena fence or bucking chutes.

While they may look like funny-faced clowns in bright tights and baggy shorts, their job is no laughing matter. The mission of every bullfighter and barrelman is to divert the bull's attention away from the exiting rider by whatever means possible. For a bullfighter, that may mean jumping on top of a moving bull to free a bull rider's hand or sprinting jaggedly across the arena to distract a charging bull.

Working from an open-ended barrel, the barrelman serves as a diversion for an angry bull. It may look like the best seat for close up action, but the barrel with the barrelman inside often ends up in the path of an incoming bull - pushed there by the bullfighter in an effort to provide escape time for a downed or injured rider.

These skilled athletes not only risk their lives to save riders, the bullfighters and barrelmen are an exciting and entertaining part of all rodeo performances. They perform tricks and banter with the announcers to entertain the audience.

They were clowns in the beginning, almost literally. Their job was to entertain and to provide comic relief. Protecting the cowboy was almost secondary.

Today they still dress like clowns, but they are bullfighters first and most importantly. And they are often the difference between life and death.

Bullfighters are in the first line defense for the bull rider. The bullfighter is responsible for distracting the bull while the cowboy regains sense of direction and escapes to safety after a fall or dismount. Today's bullfighter, far from being a clown, is so serious about his job he routinely places his own life in danger in an effort to protect the cowboy.

The modern bullfighter is also an accomplished athlete, a master of timing and agility. And fittingly, he has his own world championship to pursue. About two decades ago, bullfighters began informally competing among themselves, challenging each other to push the limit on daredevil stunts against the bulls.

Now, thanks to the Wrangler Bullfight Tour, Bullfighters compete for their own world championship.

On the Wrangler tour, the bullfighter goes one-on-one against the bull for 70 seconds. The bullfighter is judged on his willingness to expose himself to risk and on his aggressiveness. His objective is to stay as close as he can to the bull throughout the fight.
Bullfighters have elevated the sport by employing spectacular maneuvers such as jumping over a charging bull. Like the riders, the bullfighters score higher when the bull is more aggressive.

Bullfight bulls are bred to be smaller, quicker and more agile than those used for riding. They can compete for years and like their human counterparts, learn form their mistakes and improve with experience.

Chute Boss
Look for this cowboy around the bucking chutes. The chute boss is basically the quarterback of the rodeo production, keeping everything moving and on schedule. His main job is to make sure the rodeo animals are in the chutes in the proper order. He also watches to make sure the contestants are properly prepared for competition. The chute boss is just that, the boss. If he says "jump," someone usually does. Stock contractors often work as the chute boss. It's an important job that requires experience, rodeo knowledge and dedication.

Many rodeos today feature clown acts. Historically, clowns filled the lulls between competitions by providing comedic relief. They also gained fame as protectors of cowboys during the bull riding competition, a job that is now usually left to bullfighters.

Like the pickup men, the flankman usually is a cowboy through and through. The flankman knows the animals and how to handle each one. He ensures that the animals are properly and safely prepared for competition. His face is one the animals are used to seeing. He feeds and cares for them nearly every day of the year and generally is a stock contractor's right-hand man. Because he sees the animals buck every day, he's usually the guy cowboys go to when they want to know what to expect from their draw.

Pickup Men
Safety for riders and bucking horses is a pickup man's main concern. It takes courage and excellent riding ability to be a PRCA pickup man. Any bareback or saddle bronc rider will tell you the ride isn't over when the required eight seconds have elapsed. Pickup men ride alongside high-kicking bucking horses and assist the contestants safely to the ground. Pickup men also remove the soft flankstrap from the horse and herd it safely out of the arena. Pickup men always have a deep understanding of rodeo livestock, and are respected by contestants as true cowboys.

Rodeo Secretary
If rodeo distributed a most-valuable-player award, a rodeo secretary would win it every time. This statement sums it up: Rodeo secretaries are the hardest-working people in rodeo you'll never see. Secretaries prepare entry lists - an impossible job for most people and all men - she tallies the results, and cuts the paychecks when the rodeo is over.

In the meantime, she is generally a wife, cook, and stand-in mother to young cowboys who need help with, a variety of things. In short, she solves all the problems before they become problems. Now, that is valuable.

Specialty Acts
Specialty acts are as much a part of rodeo as the cowboys and bucking animals who are more often in the limelight. While specialty acts are used throughout the rodeo industry to fill gaps in the action, these talented performers hold their own in terms of keeping the fans entertained.

A specialty act can consist of just about anything. Elaborate clown comedy skits, magnificently trained animal acts, trick ropers, sharpshooters and death-defying trick riders are just a few of the cast members found in this diverse category.

They're sometimes called the halftime entertainment of rodeo, but their acts can be honed to a fine point.

Stock Contractor
There are about 70 PRCA stock contractors who produce or provide animals for more than 700 rodeos annually. Stock contractors provide the bucking horses and bulls, as well as the calves and steers. They generally live on ranches and spend much of the year developing quality stock for rodeo competition. Stock contractors also hire other contract personnel and produce the rodeos for various rodeo committees. They generally are the ultimate authority at any rodeo.

Timed-Event Boss
Like the "Chute Boss" this fellow takes charge when the timed events take place. This cowboy works the timed-event chutes, making sure the barrier is set and working properly on all the calves and steers. He keeps the animals in order. As in the roughstock events, the contestants draw their animals; it is the timed-event boss who matches the cowboys with the right animal.

These two There are two of them at every rodeo and they must be fair and aware during the competition, they usually work hand in hand with the "Rodeo Secretary" & the "Timed-Event Boss", keeping a clock on the timed events. The timers use stopwatches to keep track of the elapsed time in the timed events. They also ensure that roughstock cowboys make full eight-second rides. And the riders appreciate their efforts.