Since the Red Lodge Home of Champions Rodeo is a PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) sanctioned event, there are seven core events. Cowboys in the Big Sky Circuit--or those hoping for a shot at the finals--can compete here, and their winnings count toward season and career totals.
In addition to the seven core PRCA events, Red Lodge also offers a wild horse race and mutton-busting (sheep riding for tots).
The events are broken into two categories: roughstock (bronc riding and bull riding) and timed (roping, bulldogging, and barrel racing). Scoring in roughstock events is done by two judges. Each judge can award a maximum of 25 points to the rider and 25 points to the animal, for a grand total of 100 points maximum: the perfect ride on the perfect animal. All roughstock events are based on an eight-second ride. If you don't stay on for eight seconds, you get no score.
Bareback riding puts a cowboy on a horse with no saddle, bridle, bit, or reins. He can hold on with one hand, using a special rigging with a handle.
When the horse leaves the chute, the rider must have both feet up, with the spurs touching the horse's shoulders (known as "marking out"). The spurs must stay in contact until the horse's feet touch the ground after the first jump. Throughout the ride, the cowboy must continue to roll his spurs up and down the horse's shoulders.
Although bull riding has the rough tough reputation, most cowboys feel that bareback riding is harder on their bodies. They're slammed against the horse's back, twisted from side to side, and pounded with each jump. More injuries occur in bareback riding than any other rodeo event.
Saddle bronc riding is smoother than bareback, with more emphasis on grace and a smooth ride. The event has its roots in breaking of green (untrained) horses in the old West.
Unlike a bareback rider, the saddle bronc rider doesn't have a handle to grab. He has only a thick rope attached to a halter. He can hold the rein with one hand only, and the other hand may not touch the horse, the saddle, or the cowboy's own body, or he is disqualified.
Saddle bronc riders must have both heels touching the horse above the point of his shoulders when it first leaps from the chute.
This has to be the ultimate in ultimate sports. Unlike horses, bulls have a tendancy to attack thrown riders. Many bullriders owe their very lives to the bullfighters and barrelmen that assist them.
Bulls don't just buck. They leap, twist, spin, and kick. The cowboy has only a flat braided rope to hold onto, which is wrapped tightly around the bull's chest and then around the rider's hand.
A solid grip is required to hang on with one hand (the other hand may ot touch the bull or cowboy), but strapping the hand down too tightly may leave the cowboy hanging from the side of an angry bucking animal.
The bulls used are a variety of breeds, with Brahmas being a particular favorite. They can weigh well over a ton, and serious bullriding fans know the bulls as well as they know the cowboys. Bulls, like broncs, are assigned to the riders by a random draw.
This event is all about raw, flat-out speed. There are no judges. Nothing is subjective as long as the cowgirl stays on the course.
The rider starts from outside the arena to get up a good head of steam. She passes the automatic timer at a full gallop, and twists around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern (she can go around to the left or right--her choice). After the last barrel, she urges the horse back to full speed and past the automatic timer at the finish.
The automatic timer is necessary because this event is timed to the hundredth of a second. It doesn't rely on the accuracy and speed of a human with a stopwatch. The electric eye catches the exact moment the horse crosses the line.
Barrel racers are allowed to touch the barrel as they pass. The barrel can rock back and forth, but if it falls over, it's a five-second penalty. When first and second place are often separated by only a few hundredths of a second, knocking over a barrel is enough to take a cowgirl right out of the competition.
Steer wrestling is the fastest event in rodeo. The cowboy backs his anxious horse into a box, and a Corriente steer is placed in a chute next to the box. A breakaway rope barrier is strung in front of the horse and attached to the steer.
When the steer is released, it gets a head start. The cowboy can't pass the barrier until the steer releases it, or he receives a ten-second penalty.
The bulldogger gallops next to the steer, and his partner, the "hazer" rides on the other side of the steer to keep it going in a straight line. When the position is perfect, the bulldogger slides off the horse, grab's the steer's horns, and wrestles it to the ground. The run is over when the steer is on its side with all four feet pointing the same direction.
The world record for this event is 2.4 seconds.
The origins of this event, like most of rodeo, lie in ranching. Before we had all of our fancy stock handling equipment, the only way to catch a calf for medical treatment, branding, or shots was to rope it.
The calf is given a head start, like the steer in a bulldogging event. The cowboy must rope the calf, dally the rope around the saddle horn, and jump off the horse. The horse backs up to keep the rope taut.
When the contestant reaches the calf, he grabs three legs and ties them together with a short rope called a "pigging string" that he carries in his teeth. As soon as the calf is tied, the cowboy throws his hands in the air as a signal to the judge to stop the timer.
He then gets back on the horse and lets the rope go slack. If the calf manages to kick free within six seconds, the ride is disqualified.
The setup for team roping is just like bulldogging, with the breakaway barrier and a young, fast steer. The two riders must chase the steer--which gets a head start--and the first rider (known as the "header") has to rope the steer around both horns, one horn and the head, or around the neck. A miss, or any other catch (getting a leg in the rope, for example), and the ride is over.
Once the header catches the steer, he must turn it so that the other roper (the "heeler") can get a rope around both hind legs. Once the horses are facing each other and all slack is out of the ropes, the timer stops. If the heeler only gets one foot, they receive a five-second penalty.
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