Rodeo 101

For all of you who enjoy watching the rodeo (but don’t feel comfortable asking the cowboy sitting next to you, “What the heck is going on?”) we pulled together a list of the most misunderstood rules of rodeo.

There’s a reason it can get confusing: some rules change based on the arena, the association sanctioning the rodeo (or it might be un-sanctioned). These are the rules for competition at Rodeo All-Star, and we’ve noted if it is one that doesn’t always apply from one rodeo to the next.


Rough Stock Rules

In Rough Stock events, athletes ride bucking horses or bulls in the bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding in efforts to receive the highest score. Scores come half from the animal (50 points possible) and half from the rider (50 points possible) for a total possible score of 100 points.

Bareback Riding | Saddle Bronc Riding | Bull Riding

Mark Out Rule
  • Applies to: bareback and saddle bronc
  • A cowboy’s feet must be above the point of the horse’s shoulders when the horse’s front feet hit the ground during the horse's first buck out of the chute.
  • If done right, he “marked the horse out,” but if not, he “missed him out” and the ride is disqualified.


  • Applies to: all rough stock events
  • If a cowboy’s score is affected by equipment failure or a horse or bull that doesn’t buck to performance specifications, the judges may offer the cowboy a clean-slate chance on a different horse or bull. It’s up to judges’ discretion
Free hand
  • Applies to: all rough stock events
  • A rider cannot touch the animal or himself with his free hand.
  • If he does, the result is disqualification.
Losing a Stirrup
  • Applies to: saddle bronc
  • The rider must keep both feet in the stirrups.
  • If a rider loses a stirrup before the end of his eight-second ride, the judge will make a hand signal to the announcers and timers immediately. No score/disqualification.

Timed Event Rules

In Timed Events, animal and cowboy athletes race against the clock to complete their event in the quickest time possible. The clock is stopped when the judge drops his flag, signaling the run is complete.

Steer Wrestling | Team Roping | Tie-Down Roping | Breakaway Roping |  Barrel Racing

Breaking the Barrier
  • Applies to: roping events (tie-down roping, breakaway roping, team roping and steer wrestling)
  • Failing to give the calf or steer the proper head start by leaving the box too soon. The head start length depends on the specifications of the arena, so it changes per location.
  • Results in a 10-second penalty.
  • It’s like jumping the gun in a track meet.


Illegal Head Catch
  • Applies to: team roping
  • There are only three legal head catches allowed at Rodeo All Star: 1) Around both horns; 2) Half a head; 3) Around the neck.
Knock Down
  • Applies to: steer wrestling
  • A steer must not be knocked down or thrown prior to coming to a stop or changing direction.
  • The steer must be let up and thrown again or it will result in a disqualification.
Kick-Out Rule
  • Applies to: tie-down roping
  • Calves must remain tied until the roper has gotten back on his horse and creates slack in the rope. Failure to do so results in a disqualification, aka "no time"
  • This rule changes from one rodeo/association to the next.
Bell Collar Catch
  • Applies to: breakaway roping
  • The breakaway rope must go around the calves head and come tight around the neck.
  • Any other catch (includes a leg, belly, and/or top it's head) is a disqualification, aka "no time"
Jerk Down
  • Applies to: tie-down roping
  • Cowboys are disqualified aka "flagged out" and receive a no time if a calf is jerked off of all four feet and its back or head touch the ground before the athlete reaches the calf.
Hitting a Barrel
  • Applies to: barrel racing
  • All three barrels must remain standing. Failure to do so results in 5 seconds being added to the total time.
  • Athletes may bump or "tip" a barrel, however, it must not fall over.

Scoring & Timing

Scoring Rough Stock Events

Because the livestock’s performance accounts for half of the rider’s score, judges look at the way the horse or bull bucks. The harder he bucks, the more points the bull or bronc will be scored by the judges.

Scoring the Rider
  • The rider must mark out his horse with the first jump out of the chute.
  • The cowboy must ride for eight seconds.
  • The judge awards points primarily for spurring action in bareback and saddle bronc riding.
  • The rider loses points if his toes are not turned out with his spurs in contact with the horse; if spurring is not continuous throughout the ride; and if he is not balanced and in control (body must be centered, not tilted).
  • Points are gained or lost according to the rider’s rhythm and timing with a horse’s bucking.
  • In bull riding, points are scored by the rider maintaining body control and position regardless of what the bull is doing.
  • Spurring is not required in bull riding, but definitely adds points to the score.
ras2016-3Scoring the Livestock
  • Consistent, high kicking action with hind legs fully extended makes for a better score.
  • The strength and force of the livestock’s bucking efforts are important.
  • Typically, horses & bulls that remain closer to the bucking chutes during the ride will receive a higher score.
  • Horses & bulls that run (not buck) to the other end of the arena typically result in the contestant receiving a "re-ride"

Timing Timed Events

  • The fastest time wins. These events are timed using an electric eye & backed up with a stop watch.
  • The rodeo judge signals the run is complete by dropping the flag.
  • If a rodeo judge waves the flag back and forth, he is indicating the run is a "no-time" and the contestant is disqualified due to a rule infraction (see rules above).
  • An official rodeo timer sits outside of the arena and starts the clock when a contestants nods their head and stops the clock when the rodeo judge drops the flag.
  • In the barrel racing, a wireless timing console "electric eye" is used to start and stop the time clock. A stopwatch is used as backup and is indicated by the rodeo judge dropping the flag.

Rodeo Terms, Definitions & Details

No time/score
  • A contestant is disqualified and receives a "no time" or "no score" due to a rule infraction
  • Contestants nod their head to indicate to open the chute to begin their ride/run
Mark Out
  • A bareback and saddle bronc riders feet must be above the bucking horses shoulders as it makes the first jump out of the chute
  • Failure to do so will result in a no score
  • If a rough stock contestants score is affected by equipment failure or a horse or bull that doesn’t buck to performance specifications, the judges may offer the contestant a clean-slate chance on a different horse or bull. It’s up to judges’ discretion
Double Grab
  • When a rough stock contestant grabs their rigging, saddle, or rope with both hands before the clock has reach 8 seconds
Free Hand
  • In rough stock events, contestant hang on with one hand. The hand that is not used to hang onto their horse or bull is called their "free hand"
  • Contestants free hand must not touch the horse or bull during their 8 second ride. Failure to do so results in a no score
  • Each time a contestant or an animal competes, it is referred to as an "out"
Stock Contractor
  • A person, organization, or group of people that bring livestock (horses, bulls, steers, calves, & sheep) to a rodeo
  • The person on the back of the bucking chutes that puts on and pulls the flank strap tight as the horse is leaving the bucking chute.
  • The Flankman is critical in the success of a horses "out" as too little or too much flank tightness may alter how well the horse bucks


      • The soft fleshy portion of an animal located between their rear leg and their belly
      Flank Strap
      • A padded strap placed around the flank of a horse or bull to create a slightly irritation to encourage the animal to buck
      Pick-up Men
      • Pick-up Men are cowboys horse back who assist bareback and saddle bronc riders get off their bucking horse safely along with taking off the "flank" strap.
      • Additionally, pick-up men are used to assist in safely exiting animals out of the arena in both rough stock & timed events
      Bronc Rein
      • In the saddle bronc riding, contestants hold onto a thick rope, "bronc rein", that is connected to the halter of the horse. The bronc rein allows contestants to gain balance during their 8 second ride
      Bull Rope
      • Bull riders wrap their hand in a flat rope around the front of the bulls belly, directly behind the bulls front legs.
      • Prior to riding, the bull rope is warmed up with rosin (a hard, rock like, sticky substance). This helps the riders hand stay in the bull rope during their ride
      Bareback Rigging
      • The suitcase handle shaped equipment used in the bareback riding. A rigging is made out of a combination of leather, wood, rawhide, and metal D rings. The rigging is then attached to a "cinch" that goes around the front of the horses belly.
      • A used on both rough stock and riding horses to secure saddles or riggings onto the horse. It is typically made of wool and is placed around the front of the horses belly (barrel), directly behind the horses front legs
      Hung Up
      • A term used when a contestant is still attached to the horse or bull after dismounting or being bucked off
        Barrier & Neck Rope
        • The barrier is used to give the steer or calf a head start in roping events.
        • The rope is pulled across the front of the roping box and pinned to the roping cute. The barrier rope is connected to the "neck rope" which is looped around the steer or calves neck
        • When the steer or calf reaches the end of the neck rope, a thin cotton string is broken free. When this happens, a pin connected to the barrier rope is pulled free
        • If the contestants rides through the barrier rope before the steer or calf breaks the neck rope free, the contestant breaks the "pigtail" off of the barrier rope indicating a broken barrier
        • The "pig tail" is a piece of nylon rope tied at the end of the barrier rope and pinned to the side of the roping box. If this piece is no longer attached to the barrier rope after the contestant leaves the box, the contestant has "broke the barrier" and receives a 10 second penalty
        Backing in the Box
        • In the steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping, and breakaway roping, each contestant will enter the box (where they will start their run from) and back their horse into the back corner. "backing in the box" is commonly used to say is next.
        • In the tie-down roping, a contestant must turn a calf onto it's side by "flanking" it before they tie three legs together. A contestant "flanks" their calf by holding the flank of the animal with their right hand while lifting the rope up with their left hand to place the calf on their side.
        Pigging String & Hondo
        • In the tie-down roping, any three legs are tied together using a small rope with a small loop at the end
        • The rope is called a pigging string
        • The loop at the end is called a hondo
        Bull Dogger
        • Another term used for a steer wrestler
                Clean Catch/Legal Catch
                • A term in roping events when a contestant catches their steer or calf the way they are supposed to be caught. In the team roping a clean catch is when the rope is around the horns. In the tie-down & breakaway roping a clean catch is when the rope is around the neck (also known as a "bell collar catch")
                Top Notch
                • In the tie-down roping and breakaway roping when a rope does not go around the calf's whole head, but instead catches the top of the calf's head
                • A term used in the team roping if the heeler only catches one leg. This one leg catch will result in a 5 second penalty
                • In the team roping, contestants rope their steer, tighten their rope, and wraps their rope around their saddle horn to secure the catch
                • "Dallying" is the action of wrapping the rope around the saddle horn
                • A term used in roping events (team roping, tie-down roping & breakaway roping) when a contestant does not catch their steer/calf but the rope lands on it. They would then "fish" their rope onto the steer/calf to catch it
                Tipped or Hit Barrel
                • In the barrel racing, contestants must keep all 3 barrels standing.
                • If a contestant "tips" or "hits" a barrel and it is nocked over onto it's side, the contestant will receive 5 seconds added to their time per barrel tipped/hit
                Ducking Off
                • A term commonly used when a horse, calf, or steer quickly maneuvers to the left or right either too quickly or when they should be going straight
                • In the steer wrestling, the hazer is another horse and rider who travels along side the steer to assist keeping the steer in line
                • Many times the hazer is another steer wrester entered in the rodeo