As with saddle bronc riding and team roping, the roots of tie-down roping can be traced back to the working ranches of the Old West. When calves were sick or injured, cowboys had to rope and immobilize them quickly for veterinary treatment. Ranch hands prided themselves on the speed with which they could rope and tie calves, and they soon turned their work into informal contests.
The mounted cowboy starts from a box, a three-sided fenced area adjacent to the chute holding the calf. The fourth side of the box opens into the arena.
A cowboy’s success in tie-down roping depends in large part on the precise teamwork between him and his horse. The calf receives a head start that is determined by the length of the arena. One end of a breakaway rope barrier is looped around the calf’s neck and stretched across the open end of the box. When the calf reaches its advantage point, the barrier is released. If the roper breaks the barrier before the calf reaches its head start, the cowboy is assessed a 10-second penalty.
The horse is trained to come to a stop as soon as the cowboy throws his loop and catches the calf. The cowboy then dismounts, sprints to the calf and throws it by hand, a maneuver called flanking. If the calf is not standing when the cowboy reaches it, he must allow the calf to get back on its feet before flanking it.
After the calf is flanked, the roper ties any three legs together with a pigging string — a short, looped rope he clenches in his teeth during the run.
While the contestant is accomplishing all of that, his horse must pull back hard enough to eliminate any slack in the rope, but not so hard as to drag the calf.
When the roper finishes tying the calf, he throws his hands in the air as a signal that the run is completed. The roper then remounts his horse, rides forward to create slack in the rope and waits six seconds to see if the calf remains tied. If the calf kicks free, the roper receives no time.
Rodeo competition, in the beginning, was a natural extension of the daily challenges cowboys confronted on the ranch — roping calves and breaking broncs into saddle horses.
Bull riding, which is intentionally climbing on the back of a 2,000-pound bull, emerged from the fearless and possibly fool-hardy nature of the cowboy.
The risks are obvious. Serious injury is always a possibility for those fearless enough to sit astride an animal that literally weighs a ton and is usually equipped with dangerous horns.
Regardless, cowboys do it, fans love it and bull riding ranks as one of rodeo’s most popular events.
Bull riding is dangerous and predictably exciting, demanding intense physical prowess, supreme mental toughness and courage.
Like bareback and saddle bronc riders, the bull rider may use only one hand to stay aboard during the eight-second ride. If he touches the bull or himself with his free hand, he receives no score. But unlike the other roughstock contestants, bull riders are not required to mark out their animals. While spurring a bull can add to the cowboy’s score, riders are commonly judged solely on their ability to stay aboard the twisting, bucking mass of muscle.
Size, agility and power create a danger that makes bull riding a crowd favorite everywhere. Balance, flexibility, coordination, quick reflexes and, perhaps above all, a strong mental attitude are the stuff of which good bull riders are made.
To stay aboard the bull, a rider grasps a flat braided rope, which is wrapped around the bull’s chest just behind the front legs and over its withers. One end of the bull rope, called the tail, is threaded through a loop on the other end and tightened around the bull. The rider then wraps the tail around his hand, sometimes weaving it through his fingers to further secure his grip.
Then he nods his head, the chute gate swings open, and he and the bull explode into the arena.
Every bull is unique in its bucking habits. A bull may dart to the left, then to the right, then rear back. Some spin or continuously circle in one spot in the arena. Others add jumps or kicks to their spins, while others might jump and kick in a straight line or move side to side while bucking.
The PRCA world all-around champion is considered by many the most talented and versatile cowboy in the sport. The PRCA cowboy who wins the most prize money in a year while competing in at least two events, earning a minimum of $3,000 in each event, wins the world all-around championship.