When someone says rodeo, a lot of people think cowboy boots and the worst smelling pies ever, cow pies, or even just country music and thick southern accents.
A lot of people that don’t know the southern culture or it may assume a rodeo is an excuse for rednecks to torture animals and partake of debauchery and drink.
The truth is rodeo is a cultural touchstone that is older than most organized sports that you see on TV. Rodeo has managed to stay a focal point of southern culture, despite losing a lot of popularity…and some pushback from PETA.
Rodeos are a great way for people to experience a whole new culture, or just meet up with some friends. It’s no different than any other sporting event, it’s just considerably less mainstream. They are a celebration of southern culture, of athlete and animal alike, the unity between the two, and simple camaraderie among folks all across the world (if you think rodeos are uniquely American, the last rodeo I went to, the Parker County Sheriff’s Posse Frontier Days And PRCA Rodeo showcased a very talented Australian bull rider).
Just like with any other culture, it isn’t enjoyed by all. I do believe that people shouldn’t be so quick to judge and should go to a rodeo at least once. They are full of excitement and friendships are quickly built when a rider gets an amazing score, or a bull decides to try to gore everyone in the ring only to eventually be wrangled back to the gate.
When it comes to professional sports, they are usually governed by a singular body. This is the case with rodeo as well. The main one is the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA).
These two are the main organizations in charge of professional rodeo. There are smaller organizations that govern on a state level, county, collegiate, or even city level rodeos.
The goal of this is to create a national consensus on the rules and events in rodeo, but the smaller organizations create more intimate care and love for the events.
Each rodeo will have a unique award. It can be anything from cash prizes to handmade custom saddles, horse trailers, or even a vehicle.
But none of that is as coveted at the winning belt buckle.
I know it sounds silly, but it is a sign you won the rodeo when you get to walk around showing off your awesome belt buckle from the latest rodeo you competed in.
The awards can be truly outrageous, but the belt buckle is what people really want. It’s the equivalent of the championship belt in boxing or MMA, more than anything it is a status symbol that you are the champ.
And it’s southern to the core.
The events of a rodeo are broken into two main categories: Timed events and judged or rough stock events.
The timed events are team roping, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, and barrel racing. It’s pretty self-explanatory that these events are scored based on how quickly they accomplish the event.
Rough stock or judged events are absolutely exciting. They are high impact and high adrenaline. There are three rough stock events: Saddle bronc, bareback, and bull riding.
The rough stock gets much more attention than the timed events. This is mainly because of the higher likelihood of injury. Bull riding is said to make up half of all rodeo injuries, bareback a quarter and the rest are pretty evenly distributed, though saddle bronc is number three on the list, it can be just as dangerous.
The timed events are scored simply based on the time it takes for the contestants to complete their event.
Scoring for rough stock rodeo events is the same across all three events. There are 2 to 4 judges depending on the rodeo. The judges score each ride, called a “go-round,” based on a scale of 1-25 for the animal and 1-25 for the rider.
The rider’s goal is to stay on for a full 8 seconds and is only allowed to hold on with one hand. If they touch themselves or the animal with their off-hand then they lose points and potentially can get a “no score.”
If the rider is unable to stay on for the full 8 seconds then they automatically receive a “no score” despite how close they got (the Weatherford rodeo had a bull rider last 7.98 second before being bucked off and still received a “no score”).
What to Expect
Of course, there are some more nitty-gritty details to get into, but it isn’t absolutely necessary for your first rodeo.
If you decide to go to your first rodeo, I recommend wearing cowboy boots or some other southern style shoe. Otherwise, you’ll stick out pretty bad.
It’s always more fun to go with a group, so I suggest getting some friends together to make an event of it. There is usually a concession stand for stadium-style food and, as with all southern events, some beer. Be prepared to cheer and be ready to potentially see some gruesome injuries. It’s not super common to see a bull gore the rider, but it does happen sometimes. Even if the bulls are relatively tame, the horses still weigh hundreds of pounds and can buck and stomp on their riders.
Sometimes rodeos can get pretty crazy. They’re usually extremely safe and have security as well as the rodeo clowns that are trained to distract and escape from raging bulls and horses.
Rodeos are an amazing way to celebrate southern culture, and if you enjoy it enough, make a trip down to Fort Worth, Texas to check out the Stockyards and Rodeo Hall of Fame.