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How to Watch a Rodeo

Rodeo is considered the most dangerous sport played. It sets man against beast, often with only a piece of leather or a rope between the two and $50,000 in prize money, said Pat Dunn, co-owner of The Cowboy Store and one of the organizers of the Franklin Rodeo. That’s what makes the rodeo exciting. But how do spectators know what is going on? It’s easy enough, when you know what to watch for.

Bareback Bronc Riding
This is a timed and judged event based on the performance of both horse and cowboy who is connected by a single-handhold strap attached to a rope tied to the horse’s halter. The eight-second ride starts with the horse’s first jump out of the chute. As the horse bucks, the cowboy earns points for upper-body control and the movement of his feet. Bareback riding is considered to be the most physically demanding event in rodeo.

Saddle Bronc Riding
This is the classic rodeo event. Also an eight-second timed event, judges score the horse’s bucking action, the rider’s control of the horse and spurring action. Loosing a stirrup or dropping the rope attached to the horse’s halter are both causes for disqualification.

Team Roping
This timed event requires cooperation and precision timing between two cowboys – the header and the heeler – and their horses. The steer gets a head start out of the gate and a breakaway barrier across the header’s box is released when the steer reaches his advantage point. The header takes off after the steer with the heeler a bit behind. If the header breaks the barrier before it is released he is assessed a 10-second penalty. The header can rope the steer around both horns, around one horn and the head or around the neck. He then jumps from the horse to turn the steer to the heeler who ropes both hind legs.

“If he only catches one leg, the team receives a five-second penalty,” Dunn said.
When the steer is roped, there is no slack in the ropes attached to the saddles, and the horses face each other, the clock stops.

“Team roping is still used by ranchers to catch wild cows,” Dunn said.

Calf Roping
Calf roping is another timed event where a cowboy on horseback chases a running calf, ropes it, dismounts, throws the calf to the ground and ties three legs together with a six-foot pigging string. If the calf stays tied for six seconds, the time is counted. If it breaks free, there is no time. As in steer wrestling and team roping, the calf is given a head start out of the chute. If the cowboy breaks the barrier across the box, he is penalized 10-seconds.

“Calf roping is still used on ranches to catch and doctor calves,” Dunn said.

Steer Wrestling
Also called “bulldogging,” this event requires the cowboy – the bulldogger – to lean from a running horse and land on the back of a 600 pound running steer, grab it by the horns, stop it and wrestle it to the ground with all four legs and head pointing in the same direction.

The hazer rides along the steer’s right side to keep him running straight. With the world record set at 2.4 seconds, steer wrestling is the fastest event of the rodeo.
“In the Old West, this actually was they way they would catch range cattle,” Dunn said.

Barrel Racing
Barrel racing is a timed event, and it is the only event in which women can participate. Five-second penalties are assessed when barrels are knocked over – tipping is okay as long as the barrel remains upright.

“Speed and accuracy are the key,” said Dunn.

The cowgirl’s time begins as she crosses the starting line in the arena. She runs a cloverleaf pattern around the barrels and back over the starting line stopping the clock. Even a brief hesitation can cost the race.

Bull Riding
Bull riding pits a 150-pound man against a 2,000-pound animal – usually with horns.

“The only way to win is to stay on for eight-seconds,” Dunn said.

With his riding hand, the cowboy hangs onto a flat braided rope wrapped around the bull just behind the front legs and over the withers behind the shoulders. His grip, balance and leg strength are all that keep him on the bull as they explode through the chute gate for the eight-second count. A timed and judged event, both the rider and bull are judged on style.

“Bulls are bred to be buckers,” Dunn said. “These animals like to buck – it’s fun to them.”

Mutton Busting
Mutton busting is for kids 50 pounds or less and age five and under. The first 10 kids each night who sign up get to participate in this fun event. Kids either ride or hang onto a sheep and, as in bronc riding and bull riding, they are judged on how long they stay on.

“No sheep or kids are injured in this event,” Dunn said. “Kids wear helmets and flack jackets like the bull riders wear. Everyone gets a trophy.”

Calf Scramble
This fun event has two divisions – kids ages 6 to 9 and 10 to 13. Three calves, each with a ribbon tied to its tail, are turned out into the arena and the kids follow. The first three to get the ribbons off the calves win a prize.
“This is an excellent way to tire out the kids,” Dunn said.


Slack will be held Friday morning from 7 to 9 a.m., or until everyone has had their run. Since there is a limited amount of time during the rodeo, only about 30 cowboys and cowgirls can participate, and there are about 70 entries. Slack is held to allow the 40 other cowboys and cowgirls a chance at the prize money.
Slack is free to the public.

Posted on: 5/15/2013


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