Introduction to Rodeo

Caucasian woman on horse throwing lasso at rodeo
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Welcome to the beginners guide to rodeo! We hope you will enjoy this introduction to the original extreme sport of rodeo. Here you will be able to acquaint yourself with the basic information to understand and enjoy the fascinating world of professional rodeo. Like other sports, rodeo has its own slang and terminology.


Todays professional rodeo holds a distinct position in the world of modern sports having come directly from a working-lifestyle. Early rodeo began as the everyday chores of working ranches on the great plains of the American West. Read the Rodeo History article for more information. These chores would eventually evolve into the unique rodeo events that we enjoy today.


Although rodeo is mainly thought of as a distinctly American phenomenon, rodeo does enjoy success in other counties of the world. Countries with a significant ranching and livestock culture also developed or borrowed from the United States rodeo example. Countries like Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia host high quality rodeos with their own national style and flair.

Modern rodeos take place in a fenced, dirt surfaced area known as an arena. Arenas can be either indoor or outdoor. Remarkably there are no standard sizes for arenas, but all of them contain bucking chutes, and roping chutes (usually at opposite ends of the arena).


Rodeo is administered by groups known as rodeo Associations, the biggest of which is the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Association memberships are usually made up of the competitors, stock contractors (provide all the livestock), judges, and organizational personnel (like announcers, secretaries, etc.). Rodeo organizations exist at the local, county, state, and national levels. This includes groups for children or ‘little britches’, high school and college-level competition.

Most rodeos are organized and funded by a city or towns local chamber of commerce and is sponsored by local business. These rodeos are normally sanctioned by an association, like the PRCA, to count toward year end awards and point standings within the association. This makes rodeo a real community event.

Prizes and Awards

Prize money for rodeos are made up of entry fees (paid by the cowboys), and added money. While the money is what keeps the cowboys and cowgirls heading down the trail, nothing is more prized than winning a rodeo belt buckle, the most recognized trophy in the rodeo world. Larger rodeos may also give out a multitude of awards including hand-tooled saddles, horse trailers, and even vehicles.

The Events

Rodeo is also unique in that it is a sport made up of several different events, each with their own style of competition, rules, and rewards. While there are many events that are specific to different regions of the U.S. and world, seven are recognized as standard events in most professional rodeo.

There are a few main events (in the standard order of competition):

These seven events can be broken down into two categories, the roughstock or judged events (bareback, saddle bronc, and bull riding) and the timed events (steer wrestling, barrel racing, tie-down and team roping).

The Roughstock Events

These are the wild, adrenaline filled events of rodeo. The dangerous nature of these events makes them extremely exciting to watch. Competitors compete in rodeo performances against the other cowboys or cowgirls entered in each specific event. Horses and bulls are normally bucked-out only once per day and each time that a competitor rides is called a go-round. Some rodeos have multiple performances (over several days) and riders get a chance ride more than once. In this instance prizes are given out for each go-round (known as day-money) and also for the over-all prize (or the average).


Scoring for the roughstock events is the same for all three of the events, although different criteria exist for judging the animals in each event. All cowboys competing in the roughstock events must use only one hand to ride and touching yourself or the animal with the free hand results in a disqualification and a no score.

To receive a score, a cowboy must make a qualified 8 second ride. Once the buzzer sounds and there are no disqualification, the ride receives a score given by 2 to 4 official judges, depending on the rodeo. Scores are given to both the competitor and the animal. Each judge scores 1-25 points for the cowboy and 1-25 points for the animal, with a maximum score being 100 points or a perfect ride (in the case of 4 judges they score the same but divide by 2).

The Timed Events

As the name implies, the timed events use stopwatches to track the times for each event, and the lowest time wins. All the timed events, except barrel racing use a barrier, which is strung across the roping chutes. This makes the event more challenging as the barrier prevents the competitor from getting too much of a head start on the livestock. Breaking the barrier results in a time penalty in each event.

The Draw

Before the rodeo, every contestant competing randomly draws the animal they are going to be competing against. This is usually done by the rodeo secretary or other event personnel. Barrel Racers draw to see who will go 1st, 2nd, etc. This represents the luck of the draw aspect of rodeo.


Regardless of the event, you can count on exciting action and competition. Rodeo has something for everybody. Check out the individual events and learn about the event specific rules and details.