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Over 380 FOOTSTEPS articles and over 8,100 articles from seven other Cobblestone Publishing magazines are available in our subscription-based online searchable archives.  Parents and teachers, try the FREE index.

Current Issue:
Tell Me a Story: Folktales Then and Now
Tell Me a Story: Folktales Then and Now

The Rodeo Today

by Vicki Hambleton

Rodeo has changed over the years. Today, professional cowboys and cowgirls compete in seven different events.

Calf Roping:     Calf roping is one of the oldest events in rodeo. A cowboy and his highly skilled horse must race against the clock to see how quickly they can rope a calf. The pair ropes the calf, and then the cowboy must jump off his horse, turn the calf on its side, and tie down its legs. World champion Fred Whitfield set a record of 6.9 seconds from start to finish.

Steer Wrestling:     Steer wrestling, or bulldogging, was never practiced in real life and has always been done as an entertainment event at rodeos. No cowboy would ever consider jumping off his horse and onto the back of a 600-pound steer that was traveling at 35 miles per hour. In the rodeo arena, a steer is let loose, and then the steer wrestler and his assistant, both on horses, overtake the steer. The cowboy must jump onto the bull, grab it by the horns, and wrestle it to the ground.

Champion Carolyn Carter expertly guides her horse in the girls barrel racing event at the Fort Worth Texas Rodeo.
Champion Carolyn Carter expertly guides her horse in the girls barrel racing event at the Fort Worth Texas Rodeo. (Courtesy of Fly Thomas)

Bull Riding:     Bull riding is probably the most dangerous event in the rodeo. Bulls are considered harder to ride than bucking horses, because their jumps and twists in the air are so unpredictable. The bull rider can hold on with only one hand and must try to stay on for eight seconds. There is always a rodeo clown in the arena. His job is to get the bull's attention after the cowboy is thrown off. Many bulls try to gore or trample the cowboy after he falls off.

Bareback Bronc Riding:     Like bull riding, the cowboy in bareback riding wants to try and stay on the bucking horse's back for eight seconds. It is not an easy job, considering that the horse has no bridle or saddle. The cowboy holds onto a single leather strap that goes around the horse's middle, just behind the shoulders.

Saddle Bronc Riding:     Unlike bareback riding, cowboys use a saddle on the wild horse for this event. The cowboy is judged on his style. The winner is the rider who can coordinate his movements with those of the horse. The cowboy tries to keep his legs as far forward as possible on the horse's shoulders, sweeping them back when the horse bucks in the air.

Barrel Racing:     Barrel racing is the only professional rodeo event in which women participate. The object in this event is to race as fast as possible on horseback around three barrels placed in a triangle. Contestants must race around the barrels in a particular order and make a cloverleaf pattern. A contestant who knocks down a barrel receives a time penalty. The horse and rider with the fastest time wins.

Team Roping:     This is the only event where two cowboys compete together and share the prize money. Like calf roping, team roping closely resembles a job cowboys on the open range performed more than a hundred years ago and still perform today. On the open range it takes two cowboys to bring down a steer so that it can be branded. In the rodeo arena, one of the cowboys must rope the steer's horns while his partner ropes the steer's hind legs.