A successful rodeo combines Old West traditions with the traditions of the local community in order to entertain and educate the local community about this aspect of our nation’s agricultural history. The Central PA Rodeo is no exception and last year produced one of the most unique, family-oriented events in our region by working closely with many local sponsors and organizations.
Rodeo is a true American sport, springing from the unique occupation of the American Cowboy. The rodeo cowboy has taken the skills of the ranch cowboy and refined them with the perfection and precision required of all professional athletes. Rules were added to the contests, imposing conditions and pressures ranch cowboys do not have.
Although many cowboys still come from traditional ranch or farm backgrounds, today’s rodeo competitors may have started in youth or high school rodeo. Another change in rodeo in the past twenty years is that the circuit used to run from spring until fall, but indoor rodeos in coliseums and arenas have made year-round rodeo competition possible.
Rodeo competitors spend countless hours and miles traveling from one rodeo to another. Travel logs of 75,000 miles per year are common for cowboys and cowgirls who usually enter three or more rodeos per week and commute all over the country.
The ultimate goal in rodeo is to win a world championship. The IPRA names world champions at the conclusion of the International Finals Rodeo in seven events: bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding. bull riding, cowgirls barrel racing, steer wrestling, calf roping and team roping. These world titles are sought-after and hard-earned, but the title of World Champion All-Around Cowboy is rodeo’s most prestigious. To win this coveted award, the cowboy must excel in more than one event, a difficult feat in today’s age of specialization.
Top IPRA cowboys and cowgirls will be at our event to complete for $7,000 and world championship points.
Rodeo Events 101
Bareback riding, developed many decades ago, consistently produces some of the wildest action in the sport. A bareback rider begins his ride with his feet placed above the break of the horse’s shoulders. If the cowboy’s feet are not in the correct position when the horse hits the ground on its first jump out of the chute, he is said to have “missed the horse out,” and is disqualified. Throughout the eight-second ride, the cowboy must grasp the rigging (a handhold made of leather and rawhide) with only one hand. Optimum spurring action begins with the rider in control, his heels at the horse’s neck. He then pulls his feet, toes turned outward, to the horse’s withers until the cowboy’s feet are nearly touching the bareback rigging. A rider is disqualified if he touches his equipment, himself or the animal with his free hand, or if he is bucked off before eight seconds. Half the cowboy’s score comes from his spurring technique and “exposure” to the strength of the horse; the other half is determined by the bucking strength of the horse.
While steer wrestlers are almost always the biggest and strongest competitors at any rodeo, virtually all will agree that proper technique is much more important than a hulking frame. The horseback steer wrestler starts behind a barrier, and begins his chase after the steer has been given a head start. If the bulldogger leaves too soon, he receives a 10-second penalty. The steer wrestler is assisted by a hazer, another cowboy on horseback tasked with keeping the steer running in a straight line. When the bulldogger’s horse pulls even with the steer, the cowboy eases down the right side of the horse and reaches for the steer’s horns. After grasping the horns, he digs his heels into the dirt; he must either bring the steer to a stop or change the direction of the animal’s body before the throw. As the steer slows, the cowboy turns the animal, lifts up on its right horn and pushes down on the left horn in an effort to get the animal on its side as quickly as possible.
Team roping- header
In rodeo’s only true team event, two ropers – a “header” and a “heeler” – work together to rope a steer in the quickest time possible. The header is the first out of the box. He may rope the steer around the head and one horn, around the neck or around both horns, which are specially reinforced for the event. As in all timed events, if the header leaves early and breaks the barrier, a 10-second penalty is added to the team’s total time. After making his catch, the header “dallies,” or wraps the tail of his rope around his saddle horn, and rides to the left, taking the steer in tow. The heeler moves in and ropes both hind legs. Catching only one hind leg results in a five-second penalty. If the heeler tosses his loop before the header has changed the direction of the steer and has the animal moving forward, a “crossfire” violation is called and the pair is disqualified. The clock is stopped when the slack has been taken out of both ropes and the contestants’ horses are facing each other with the steer in the middle.
Team roping – heeler
A team roping heeler has a lot in common with a place kicker in football. When things go well, he’s the hero; but when things go sour, everybody assumes it was his fault. The heeler’s job begins when the header calls for the steer to be released. While the header gets into position for his throw, the heeler keeps the steer running straight to give his partner the best chance for a quick throw. After the header’s loop hits its mark and turns the steer to the left, the heeler quickly switches from “hazer” to roper and slides into position for his own shot. This transition must be seamless because every jump the steer makes prior to the heeler’s throw means tenths of seconds added to the team’s time. The heeler throws his rope under the belly of the steer just in front of its hind legs, then pulls his slack upward as the steer hops into the open loop. Meanwhile, his specially trained quarter horse slams on the brakes. The heeler then dallies and waits for the header to pull the slack out of his rope and turn his horse to face the heeler’s. The header is responsible for avoiding a 10-second penalty by giving the steer the proper head start at the barrier, but the heeler can cost the team a five-second penalty if he ropes only one back leg.
Saddle bronc riding
Rodeo’s “classic” event, saddle bronc riding, has roots that run deep in the history of the Old West. Ranch hands would often gather and compete among themselves to see who could display the best style while riding unbroken horses. It was from that early competition that today’s event was born. A bronc rider must begin his ride with his feet placed over the bronc’s shoulders. A rider who synchronizes his spurring action with the animal’s bucking efforts will receive a high score. Other factors considered in the scoring are the cowboy’s control throughout the ride and the length of his front-to-back spurring stroke. Model spurring action begins with the rider’s feet far forward on the point of the bronc’s shoulders, sweeping to the back of the saddle, or “cantle,” as the horse bucks. The rider then snaps his feet back to the horse’s neck a split second before the animal’s front feet hit the ground. Disqualification results if the rider touches the animal, himself or his equipment with his free hand, if either foot slips out of a stirrup, if he drops the bronc rein, or if he fails to have his feet in the proper position at the start of the ride.
Like bronc riding, tie-down roping was born on the ranches of the Old West. And, because of the speed and variety of tasks required in tie-down roping, the event attracts some of the best athletes in rodeo. Success in tie-down roping depends largely on the teamwork between a cowboy and his horse. The luck of the draw is also a factor. A feisty calf that runs fast or kicks hard can foil a roper’s finest effort. After the calf is given a head start, horse and rider give chase. The contestant ropes the calf, then dismounts and runs down the rope, which is anchored to his saddle horn and held tight by the horse. After catching and flanking the calf, the cowboy ties any three of the animal’s legs together using a “pigging” string he clenches in his teeth until he’s ready to use it. If the calf is not standing when the contestant reaches it, the cowboy must allow the animal to stand, then flank it. When the cowboy completes his tie, he throws his hands in the air as a signal to the judge. He then remounts his horse and allows the rope to become slack. The roper is disqualified if the calf kicks free within six seconds. As with any timed event, a 10-second penalty is added if the calf roper breaks the barrier at the start of the run.
There are no judges in barrel racing. In fact, there are no subjective points of view at all in this swift sport. Barrel racing is graceful simplicity – one woman, three barrels, a horse and the ever-present stopwatch. The horse is ridden as quickly as possible around a cloverleaf course of barrels. At the end of the performance, when the racers have finished their runs, the clock is the one and only judge. Ride quickly and win. Hesitate and lose. Not only have the best of the sport spent countless hours practicing and honing their skill, they also have invested many dollars in the purchase and maintenance of the talented horses they ride. A proven barrel racing horse can cost $50,000. For the professional barrel racer, it is indeed a small price to pay. Not only must the horse be swift, it also must be intelligent enough to avoid tipping the barrels, an infraction that adds five penalty seconds to the time and kills any chance at victory. It’s also necessary that the horse can withstand the long roads a cowgirl must travel to reach the next rodeo. If a horse is fast, competitive and reacts calmly to the demands of travel, chances are good that horse can stop the clock as quickly or quicker than the animal in the next trailer. Because so many barrel racers have tuned their skill so well, the sport is timed to the hundredth of a second. When the racer enters the arena, an electronic eye starts the clock. The clock is stopped the instant the horse completes the pattern. Barrel racing at its core has changed little from the days when cowgirls raced for minimal, if any, prize money and support. And though the prizes and exposure are greater now than ever, the ultimate goal remains essentially as simple as ever before: stop the clock as quickly as you can.
Even bull riders will admit that their profession borders on the insane. It’s a simple physical struggle: a 160-pound man lashes himself to a bull that weighs nearly a ton and might have foot-long horns, then tries to stay aboard for eight seconds. Upper body control and strong legs are essential to riding bulls. The rider tries to remain forward, or “over his hand,” at all times. Leaning back could cause him to be whipped forward when the bull bucks. Judges watch for good body position and other factors, including use of the free arm and spurring action. Although not required, spurring will add points to a rider’s score. As in all the riding events, half the score in bull riding is determined by the contestant’s performance and the other half is based on the animal’s efforts. A bull rider will be disqualified for touching the animal, himself or his equipment with his free hand, or for getting bucked off before the eight-second whistle.