Rodeo is a North American phenomenon, and has been around for over 150 years. The word is Spanish, and roughly translated rodeo means “round up”. The Mexican vaqueros, or cowboys, used the word when referring to the corral or ring where wild horses were brought for training.
The settling of the American southwest by the Spaniards in the 1500s saw the arrival of horses and cattle. It was necessary to drive the herds to the stockyards in order to sell them for the consumption of far-away markets. With the arrival of railways, greater distances had to be covered to drive the herds to collecting points at stations. Very often long waits were encountered, and boredom would set in. In an effort to alleviate the boredom, the cowhands created contests featuring the skills of their profession. Roping calves, riding wild horses, and manoeuvering cattle were among the events.
In 1883, William Cody organized a travelling show of trick roping, trick shooting and staged wars between cowboys and natives. This show was called Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and it toured the U.S. and Europe.
The first major rodeo took place in 1886 at Prescott, Arizona. More cropped up, and at the turn of the century, rodeos took place at agricultural fairs and horse shows. Today, rodeo is a highly professional sport and successful competitors can earn large amounts in prize money.
We acknowledge that there is controversy dogging the world of rodeo, but our purpose here is to explain the events without celebrating or condemning them.
This rodeo event originated from the old methods of breaking wild horses for working on the ranch. The horses are saddled in the chute, which is a special stall that is too small for the horses to buck or kick, and has a gate that opens onto the arena. The horse has a headcollar and rope besides the saddle, and the rider is to hold onto the rope only with one hand. Once the cowboy lowers himself onto the saddle, a bucking strap is fastened tightly, and the chute is opened. At this time, the rider’s feet should be forwards over the points of the horse’s shoulders. The bronc is not trained to buck, and these days most are bred to buck. The rider attempts to stay on the horse for eight seconds, all the while moving his legs in rhythm from the shoulders to the flanks and back again. If he stays on, judges score his ride: half of the score is for the horse’s bucking; and the other half is for the rider’s performance. One hundred points is a perfect score. A pickup man (an experienced rider on a well-trained horse) may help the rider descend from the bronc after the eight second horn sounds, and he also loosens the bucking strap.
This event, like saddle bronc riding, requires that the rider remain on the horse’s back for eight seconds, all the while keeping the spurring technique in constant motion. Unlike the saddle bronc riding, there is no saddle on the horse, but instead is a leather surcingle or handle called a rigging. The rider wedges one hand through this handle, and the other hand is free. The rider cannot touch the horse with this free hand. The rider’s securing arm undergoes tremendous strain during this event. Strength and balance are the keys to success at this event.
This rodeo sport is the one in which women are the competitors. It is a race against time and a test of agility. Three barrels are set up in a triangular course, and the horse and rider must travel around each one in a cloverleaf pattern without knocking down the barrels. After the final barrel, there is a full out gallop back to the start of the course. The time taken to complete the course is the rider’s score. Quarter Horses excel at this event, as they are built for great speed over short distances, as well as quick turns.
Two horses, two riders and one steer are required for this event. One rider is the hazer, and his job is to keep the steer running in a straight line. On the other side of the steer is the other rider, who is the competitor. This rider must jump off of his horse and grab the steer by its horns, and finally throw the steer onto its side. Once on its side, the steer is immediately released. This is a timed event, so the winner is the competitor who completes this event in the least time. Balance, timing, speed and strength are essential for success at this event.
This event has its roots in branding time at the cattle ranch. Young calves are caught and given a brand, and roping them while on horseback is the effective method of catching them. The rodeo event involves the calf coming out of a chute with a head start. The cowboy and horse follow, and the cowboy throws his lariat, which is a coild of rope with a loop at one end. If he is successful, the loop will have gone around the neck of the calf. The other end of the rope is tied to the saddle horn. Once the calf is roped, the horse stops, and backs up to keep the rope taut. The rider runs to the calf, flips it onto its back, and secures three legs with a “piggin’ string”. The calf has to stay tied for six seconds. The fastest time wins. If the horse and rider start the pursuit of the calf too soon, they lose. If the calf wriggles out of the piggin’ string, they lose.
Two cowboys, two horses, and a steer are needed for team roping. First one cowboy, called the header, has the job of tossing a rope around the horns of the steer. Then the other cowboy, called the heeler, ropes the steer’s hind legs. This is another timed event, and the clock stops when both horses face each other, with the steer in the middle, and the ropes taut.