No trip to Wyoming is complete without attending a rodeo. As Wyoming’s official state sport, rodeos of all sizes can be found across the state. From the 10-day Daddy of ’em All – Cheyenne Frontier Days – to the nightly rodeo Cody hosts throughout the summer, there’s no shortage of rodeos in Wyoming. There’s more to this thrilling sport than meets the eye; rodeo events are scored based on a handful of skills and technicalities.
The events are laid out in a set order that alternates timed and rough stock competitions to best use each side of the ring.
What are the most common rodeo events?
- Bareback riding
- Steer wrestling
- Team roping
- Saddle bronc riding
- Tie-down roping
- Barrel racing
- Bull riding
Now that you have a basic run-down of the events, take a deeper dive into how they are run so you know what to expect before entering the grandstands.
This event is judged on the performance of both the bucking horse and rider. The cowboy has a single handhold and must ride for eight seconds. He must have both spurs touching the horse’s shoulder as the animal jumps from the chute. This is called “marking out,” and cowboys who fail to
do this face disqualification.
During the ride, the cowboy pulls his knees up as the bronc bucks, rolling his spurs up the horse’s shoulders. He straightens his legs as the horse descends and returns his spurs to the point over the horse’s shoulders as he prepares for the next jump. Bareback riding is considered the toughest ride due to the injuries and long-term damage sustained by the cowboys who enter this event.
A successful steer wrestler combines strength with leverage for this timed competition. The steer wrestler is on horseback and remains behind a barrier to give the steer a head start. Steer wrestlers – or “bulldoggers” – who leave too quickly receive a 10-second penalty called “breaking the barrier.” A “hazer” – another cowboy on horseback – stays on the opposite side of the steer to keep him running in a straight line.
When the bulldogger’s horse draws even with the steer, the cowboy eases down the horse’s right side and grabs the steer by the horns. Once he has the horns, he digs his heels into the dirt to slow the steer. He then turns the steer, lifts up the animal’s right horn and pushes down with his left hand to try to tip over the steer. Contestants who fail to bring the steer to a stop or change the direction of the steer’s body before the throw are disqualified. The clock stops when the steer is on his side with all four legs pointing in the same direction.
As the only team event at professional rodeos, successful team roping requires a high level of coordination between two cowboys – a header and
a heeler – as well as their horses. Similar to tie-down roping, an event held later in the rodeo, team roping begins with the steer getting a head start before the riders give chase. The header pursues the steer (with the heeler close behind) to rope the steer around both horns, one horn or the neck.
Once this “catch” is made, the header turns the steer to expose the animal’s hind legs to the heeler. The heeler works to rope both legs and the clock is stopped when the ropes are no longer slack and the horses face each other. The team receives a 10-second penalty if they do not give the calf a proper head start. Additionally, if the heeler only ropes one leg, the team is assessed a five-second penalty.
Saddle Bronc Riding
This classic rodeo event started during the early days of the Old West, when cowboys tried to decide who had the best style when riding an untrained horse. Today’s saddle bronc riders begin each ride with their feet over the bronc’s shoulder, or “marked out,” to give the horse the advantage and ride for eight seconds. Riders who synchronize spurring with the horse’s bucking motion receive higher scores.
Scoring is also based on the cowboy’s control throughout the ride, the length of his spurring strokes and how hard the horse bucks. Disqualification results if the rider is bucked off, his foot comes out of the stirrup, he drops the rein or fails to have his feet in proper “mark out” position at the start of the ride. Riders are also disqualified if they touch the horse, themselves or the equipment with their free hand.
Calves were roped on early ranches for branding and to administer medication. Tie-down roping today involves teamwork between horse and rider, with the calf getting a head start before horse and rider give chase. The cowboy receives a 10-second penalty if he does not give the calf a
proper head start. The cowboy’s horse comes to a stop as soon as the cowboy ropes the calf around the neck, effectively holding the animal. The rider dismounts and runs to the calf, flips him on his side and ties any three legs together using a “piggy string” the cowboy carries with his teeth.
Once the cowboy completes the tie, he throws his hands in the air to signal the judges. He then remounts his horse and allows the rope to become slack. The contestant is disqualified if the calf kicks loose within six seconds.
In this event, the cowgirl and her horse enter the arena at full speed, triggering an electronic eye that starts the clock. Horse and rider run a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels before they gallop from the arena, tripping the clock to stop as they exit. Contestants may touch or even move a barrel during the run but receive a 5-second penalty for overturning a barrel. This event is timed and cowgirls strive for the fastest time.
Riders compete aboard a bull weighing one ton or more and must remain seated for eight seconds. Similar to bareback riding, cowboys have a single handhold and try to stay forward, or “over his hand,” to avoid being whipped forward when the bull bucks.
Judges watch for good body position and consider factors such as the use of the free arm and the cowboy’s ability to match the moves of the bull. Four judges evaluate each ride, and 50 percent of the score is based on the contestant with the other 50 percent is based on the bull’s performance. A rider faces disqualification if he touches the bull, himself or the equipment with his free hand or gets bucked off.
Cowboys who participate in two or more events at the rodeo are eligible for recognition as the All-Around Cowboy Champion. The PRCA world all-around champion is named at the National Finals Rodeo each year and is considered the most versatile athlete in professional rodeo.
Bullfighting – More Than Clowning Around
You can’t miss bullfighters with their face paint, baggy pants and entertaining antics. They’re talented and funny, but their main job is to save cowboys’ lives. Bullfighters are sometimes referred to as rodeo clowns and spring into action any time a bull throws a cowboy to divert the animal’s attention away from the rider.
These athletes understand the psychology behind bullfighting, taking time to study the individual animals and the cowboys who ride them. Bullfighters are able to prevent threatening situations from becoming dangerous – often without the audience realizing the risk involved. It’s all part of their job.
Excited to see a Wyoming rodeo for yourself? Visit our events page to find a rodeo near you.
Rodeo animals – horses and cattle – are valuable stock worth tens of thousands of dollars. In many instances, these animals come from ranches that have earned reputations for their proven performance. Rodeo animals provide a tremendous challenge for even the most seasoned riders.
The ranches where these animals are raised and cared for take great pride in their stock, with the animals receiving the attention they need to perform at top levels every time they enter the chute. The PRCA recognizes top rodeo stock with awards such as the “Bucking Horse of the Year” and the “World Champion Bull.”
Team Wyoming Rodeo Program
As The Cowboy State, Wyoming sponsors professional cowboys and cowgirls as part of Team Wyoming. The team, which includes professional and collegiate athletes, reinforces the continuation of the sport while also promoting Wyoming and its cowboy heritage. Team Wyoming includes PRCA and WPRA members who have qualified for or participated in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas within the past five years.
Team Wyoming members must enter and compete throughout the season with the goal to win a world title. They must also be Wyoming residents or natives and maintain a part-time Wyoming residence. You’ll see team members at various events, greeting fans and working with the media. Members of Team Wyoming are counted among the world’s top rodeo competitors.
For more on rodeo events and scoring, check out the Rodeo Rules Made Simple, videos created by Cheyenne Frontier Days.