As in all roughstock events, the goal in bareback bronc riding is to stay on top of the horse for eight seconds … in this case, without the help of a saddle. Assuming the eight seconds are reached, the ride then is judged on the performances of the cowboy as well as the horse. The rider earns points for maintaining body control while moving his feet in time with the horse. The horse earns points for making the cowboy’s job as hard as possible.
Barrel racing is fast-paced and simple (in theory, anyway). The rider’s goal is to navigate her horse around a cloverleaf course of three barrels faster than any other contestant. If she knocks over a barrel, it adds five seconds to her time. Winning by just hundredths of a second is common, so every stride counts.
Bull riding is one of the most exciting and dangerous events in rodeo. The cowboy uses a rope to strap his hand to the 2,000 pound animal and attempts to hang on for eight seconds. If he touches the bull or himself with his free hand, he’ll get a no score. Unlike other roughstock contestants, the bull rider isn’t required to “mark out” or spur his animal. While he gets extra points for doing so, bulls seldom leave time for anything outside of hanging on.
Known as rodeo’s classic event, saddle bronc riding is judged similarly to bareback with a few additional rules (like being disqualified for losing a stirrup or dropping the rein). The cowboy also sits on the horse differently, due to the saddle and rein, and the spurring motion covers a different area of the horse. Saddle broncs tend to be bigger and stronger than bareback horses and generally buck in a slower rhythm.
This event, originally called “bull dogging,” requires the cowboy to jump from his running horse onto the back of a 600 pound steer, catch it by the horns, and wrestle it to the ground. Just like the roping events, the steer starts in a chute and is given a head start, with a 10-second penalty should the cowboy break the barrier. The clock stops when the steer is on its side with all four feet pointing in the same direction.
Team roping is the only rodeo event that features two contestants, called the header and the heeler. The header’s job is to rope the horns of the steer, then dally his rope around the saddle horn and turn the steer to the left – allowing the healer to rope the steer’s hind legs. The clock stops once both ropers have made their catch, turn to face each other, and pull their ropes tight.
Tie-down roping, a skill that originated on the working ranch, involves a mounted cowboy roping and tying a calf for time. The calf starts in a chute, while the cowboy and his horse start further back in the “box.” The calf is given a head start out of the chute before the horse and rider are allowed to follow. If the cowboy’s horse leaves the box too soon, a 10-second penalty is added to the roper’s time. Once the calf has been roped, the cowboy dismounts and runs down the rope to the calf. He then flanks the calf and ties three of its legs together with a rope called a pigging string. When he throws his hands in the air, the judge punches the clock and gives the official time.