Professional rodeos in the United States and Canada usually incorporate both timed events and “rough stock” events, most commonly calf roping, team roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc and bareback bronc riding, bull riding, and barrel racing. Additional events may be included at the collegiate and high school level, including breakaway roping and goat tying. Some events are based on traditional ranch practices; others are modern developments and have no counterpart in ranch practice.
Roping competitions are based on the tasks of a working cowboy, who often had to capture calves and adult cattle for branding, medical treatment and other purposes. The cowboy must throw a type of rope with a loop, known as a lariat, riata or reata, or lasso, over the head of a calf or onto the horns and around the hind legs of adult cattle, and secure the animal in a fashion dictated by its size and age.
- Tie-down Roping, is based on ranch work in which calves are roped for branding, medical treatment, or other purposes. It is the oldest of rodeo’s timed events. The cowboy ropes a running calf around the neck with a lariat, and his horse stops and sets back on the rope while the cowboy dismounts, runs to the calf, throws it to the ground and ties three feet together. (If the calf falls when roped, the cowboy must lose time waiting for the calf to get back to its feet so that the cowboy can do the work. The job of the horse is to hold the calf steady on the rope. A well-trained calf-roping horse will slowly back up while the cowboy ties the calf, to help keep the lariat snug.
- Team roping, also called “heading and heeling,” is the only rodeo event where men and women riders compete together. Two people capture and restrain a full-grown steer. One horse and rider, the “header,” lassos a running steer’s horns, while the other horse and rider, the “heeler,” lassos the steer’s two hind legs. Once the animal is captured, the riders face each other and lightly pull the steer between them, so that it loses its balance and lies down. This technique originated from methods of capture and restraint for treatment used on a ranch.
Other timed events
- Barrel racing is a timed speed and agility event. In barrel racing, horse and rider gallop around a cloverleaf pattern of barrels, making agile turns without knocking the barrels over. In professional, collegiate and high school rodeo, barrel racing is an exclusively women’s sport, though men and boys occasionally compete at local O-Mok-See competition.
- Steer wrestling – Also known as “Bulldogging,” is a rodeo event where the rider jumps off his horse onto a Corriente steer and ‘wrestles’ it to the ground by grabbing it by the horns. This is probably the single most physically dangerous event in rodeo for the cowboy, who runs a high risk of jumping off a running horse head first and missing the steer, or of having the thrown steer land on top of him, sometimes horns first.
Rough stock competition
In spite of popular myth, most modern “broncs” are not in fact wild horses, but are more commonly spoiled riding horses or horses bred specifically as bucking stock. Rough stock events also use at least two well-trained riding horses ridden by “pick up men” (or women), tasked with assisting fallen riders and helping successful riders get safely off the bucking animal.
- Bronc riding – there are two divisions in rodeo, bareback bronc riding, where the rider is only allowed to hang onto a bucking horse with a type of surcingle called a “rigging”; and saddle bronc riding, where the rider uses a specialized western saddle without a horn (for safety) and hangs onto a heavy lead rope, called a bronc rein, which is attached to a halter on the horse.
- Bull riding – an event where the cowboys ride full-grown bulls instead of horses. Although skills and equipment similar to those needed for bareback bronc riding are required, the event differs considerably from horse riding competition due to the danger involved. Because bulls are unpredictable and may attack a fallen rider, rodeo clowns, now known as “bullfighters”, work during bull-riding competition to distract the bulls and help prevent injury to competitors.