The term rodeo is Spanish, meaning to ’round up’. The term was used generally to refer to any sort of gathering up of cattle for whatever purpose. It has however evolved to become recognised the way we do now, an exhibition of cowboy skills demonstrated in the form of competition.
The first rodeo was held in 1888 and quickly caught on as a form of public entertainment. It wasn’t however until the late 1920s that the events began to become standardised in the wake of the formation of numerous organising bodies. This traditional type of rodeo continues today with contestants hailing from a ranching background and competing pretty much under the same conditions as the events were founded on. This is largely thanks to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the PRCA.
As part of the circuit though there are huge stadium based, televised rodeo events. And these were born from the 70s when younger and more ‘athletic’ cowboys took part for the prowess and strength the sport required, as well as the big prize money on offer, rather than the fact it was something they had done in a ‘traditional’ capacity. And it is these occasions that today are most commonly recognised as a rodeo.
Rodeos consist of a variety of events split into timed and ‘rough stock’, the mainstays are:
- Calf Roping. A calf is roped by a cowboy while on horseback. Once secure the cowboy dismounts and ties the calf’s legs.
- Team Roping. Two cowboys take down an adult steer in a similar method to calf roping. Because of the size of the beast though the danger is much increased.
- Steer-wrestling. Super dangerous. The cowboy will jump from his horse onto a steer, grabbing his horns as he does. From this position he then takes it down.
- Barrel racing. Horsemanship and speed are tested as cowgirls and their rides fly around a clover shaped circuit marked by barrels. Agility and not knocking over the barrels is the key.
- Bronc riding. This is the classic rodeo stuff. Cowboys try to stay on a bucking bronco, it’s as simple as that. There are two variations of this bareback and saddle, which are fairly self-explanatory.
- Bull riding. This is the show piece event and the most dangerous. Full grown, enraged and bucking bulls are not to be messed with. Yet that is actually the precise nature of the sport.
Eight seconds and Bodacious
In the Bull riding the event the cowboys must try to last eight seconds. This has become the moniker of the modern rodeo known as “the most dangerous eight seconds in sport.” Figures back this up with bull riding accounting for 50% of all serious rodeo injuries.
The most famous bull of all time was Bodacious. He was never beaten and was renowned for his ‘power’ move where he would flip riders forward and then slam his own head up. The result was cowboy face meeting bull skull. Unsurprisingly this resulted in some nasty injuries for his riders, most notably Tuff Hedeman who had to have extensive plastic surgery to rebuild his shattered face.
Ty is the superstar of Rodeo, he was born in 1969 and he has been world champion 9 times! He’s also married to American pop artist Jewel.
That’s as good a start as any into gaining an understanding about all that is the sport and art of the rodeo. I’ll leave you with a good rodeo story, that shows sense does occasionally outweigh machismo is this sport. Tuff drew another ride on Bodacious in the same year that he’d had his face destroyed by the infamous bull. He took the ride but ‘turned him out’, i.e. leapt off as soon as the gate opened. He politely tipped his hat to the bull and left the arena, Bodacious was retired thereafter.
Simon Ambrose is a freelance copywriter based in Scotland. He is currently engaged in a research project on Mothers Day in the UK and is one of the brains behind the new site Gifts and Cards, a kind of trivia site on gift-giving.