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.


Today’s 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.


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 of the rodeo world. Larger rodeos may also give out a multitude of awards including hand-tooled saddles, horse trailers, and even vehicles.


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.

The seven main events are (in the standard order of competition):

• Bareback Riding

• Steer Wrestling

• Team Roping

• Breakaway Roping

• Saddle Bronc

• Tie-Down Roping

• Barrel Racing

• Bull Riding

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).


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).


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-moneScoring 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).) and also for the over-all prize (or the average).


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.


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.


Average- Usually used to describe the aggregate score for a contestant who competed in more than one round, e.g., “He had times of 9.3 and 9.8 seconds in the two rounds and placed third in the average with 19.1 seconds on two head”.

Barrelman- An entertainer who uses a barrel to distract a bull after a ride, and sometimes to protect the cowboy.

Barrier- In timed events, a line at the front of the box that the contestant and his horse cannot cross until the steer or calf has a head start, usually marked with a rope and a flag so the timers can see it drop and start the clock.

Box- In a timed event, the area a horse and rider back into before they make a roping or steer wrestling run Breaking the barrier: in the timed events, if the rider leaves the box too soon – failing to give the animal enough of a head start – he is assessed a 10-second penalty.

Bronc Rein- A saddle bronc rider holds onto a bronc rein at a specific position that he determines based on the size and bucking habits of the horse he’s about to ride; bronc riders often give each other advice about the length of rein a specific horse will perform best with, e.g., “Give him 3½ fingers”.

Bulldogger- A steer wrestler.

Bullfighter- An athlete who protects the bull rider after he dismounts or is bucked off by distracting the bull and directing its attention to the exit gate, sometimes stepping between the bull and the bull rider.

Calf Roper- A tie-down roper.

Chute- A pen that holds an animal safely in position Covering: in the roughstock events, staying on for at least the minimum time, eight seconds: “He covered all three broncs he rode last weekend.”

Crossfire Penalty- In team roping, if the header doesn’t change the direction of the steer before the heeler catches, the run is disqualified.

Dally- In team roping, each roper, after throwing his loop, wraps the loose rope around his saddle horn – dallies – and the two ropers move their horses to face each other, pulling the ropes taut to stop the clock.

Draw- Each roughstock competitor who enters a PRCA rodeo is assigned a specific bucking horse or bull in a random draw conducted at PRCA headquarters three days before the rodeo; each timed-event contestant is assigned a calf or steer in a random draw on site, shortly before each performance of a rodeo begins.

Drop- In roughstock events, the way a bucking horse or bull may lower its front end suddenly while kicking out in back, creating a more difficult ride; in timed events, the way a calf or steer may lower its head to avoid a catch.

Flags- Because rodeo’s timed events are measured in tenths of seconds, judges in the arena drop flags to signal the timers to stop the clocks.

Flankman- A cowboy or cowgirl who works in the bucking chutes, adjusting the flank strap around the animal before the ride; the best flankmen and women are familiar with each individual animal and know exactly how much flank to give each animal to encourage optimal bucking.

Flank Strap- A soft sheepskin- or Neoprene-lined strap placed in the area where a human’s belt would go, it encourages the animal to kick out behind itself rather than rear up, which provides a safer, showier ride.

Gold Card Member, Life Member- A 10-year, dues-paying member of the PRCA who has reached his 50th birthday, or a 20-year dues-paying member of any age.

Go-Round- Many rodeos have more than one round of competition; each is called a go-round, and all cowboys entered in that rodeo compete in each go-round unless there is a semi-final, final or progressive round.

Hazer- In steer wrestling, the cowboy who rides on the right side of the steer from the contestant to make sure the steer runs straight.

Header/Heeler- The two partners in team roping – the header throws the first rope, over the animal’s head or horns, and the heeler throws the second rope to catch both the steer’s hind legs; roping one leg results in a five-second penalty.

Hooey- The knot that a cowboy uses to finish tying the calf’s legs together in tie-down roping.

Hung Up- When a bull rider or bareback rider cannot remove his hand from the rope or handle before he dismounts or is thrown off the bull’s or horse’s back, his hand is “hung up” – a dangerous situation – and the pickup men or bullfighters will move in to help dislodge his hand so he can get clear of the animal.

Judges- As in other sports, trained PRCA judges ensure that all participants follow PRCA rules; they determine times for runs in the timed events and scores for rides in the roughstock events; record penalties for any infractions of the rules; and inspect the arena, chutes and livestock before each competition.

Left (or right) Delivery- Many bucking animals prefer to stand in the chute facing a particular direction, so they can leave the chute in the direction they prefer.

Mark Out –In the bareback and saddle bronc riding, a cowboy’s feet must be above the point of the horse’s shoulders when the horse’s front feet hit the ground – if so, he “marked the horse out,” but if not, he “missed him out” and the ride is disqualified.

Nodding- In the roughstock events, a cowboy nods when he is ready for the gateman to open the gate and the ride to begin; in the timed events, a cowboy nods when he is ready for the calf or steer to be released from the chute and get its head start.

Penalty- In timed events, common penalties include 10 seconds for breaking the barrier and, in team roping, five seconds for a one-hind-leg catch.

Permit Holder- A PRCA contestant who has not yet won his first $1,000 at PRCA rodeos, which enables him to apply to become a card-holding member of the organization.

Pickup Men- Two mounted cowboys who help riders dismount, release a bucking horse’s soft flank strap, and escort bucking horses and bulls to the exit gate after a ride.

Piggin’ String- In tie-down roping, the small rope used to tie a calf’s legs together.

Pigtail- A piece of string attached to the barrier that breaks if a timed-event contestant’s horse exits the box too soon, not giving the calf or steer enough of a head start according to PRCA rules.

Rank- An adjective of praise and respect used to describe especially challenging roughstock.

Reride- If a cowboy’s score is affected by equipment failure or a horse or bull that doesn’t buck to performance specifications, the judges may offer the cowboy a clean-slate chance on a different horse or bull.

Riggin’- A suitcase-style handhold customized to a rider’s grip and attached to a molded piece of leather that is cinched, with a pad, around the horse’s girth.

Ropes- The correct term is rope, not lasso, lariat or riata; most ropes used in ProRodeo timed events are made of strong yet flexible braided materials such as nylon/poly blends, and a cowboy may change his rope selection depending on the weather and the cattle; bull ropes and bronc reins are often made of sisal or poly blends.

Roughstock- The bucking horses and bulls used in bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding, usually bred and raised for the job.

Score- In the roughstock events, the points awarded for the difficulty of the ride (bucking) and the cowboy’s skill in riding; in the timed events, the length of the head start given to the calf or steer, which the judges calculate based on PRCA rules (each cowboy must correctly calculate how much of the required head start to allow the calf or steer to get before signaling his horse to leave the box; if he miscalculates, he will be out late and get a longer time, or will be out early and be penalized for breaking the barrier); however, when used to describe a horse (“That mare really scores well”),it refers to the horse’s obedience in staying in the box until the cowboy signals it to start the pursuit.

Slack- Excess entries at some rodeos may be scheduled for preliminary (slack) competition, usually before the rodeo opens to the public.

Spurs- The spurs used in PRCA rodeos have dulled rowels that do not penetrate the animals’ skin, which is several times thicker than human skin; see the PRCA and Livestock Welfare chapter for more information.

Standings- A professional cowboy’s success is measured in earnings and cowboys may keep track of where they rank in yearly earnings in several sets of standings.

Stock Contractors- The companies that bring livestock to the arena for rodeos – bucking horses and bulls for the roughstock events and steers and calves for the timed events.

Timed Events- Steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping and steer roping – events in which the contestant(s) who make the fastest qualified runs win.

Triple Crown Winner- A cowboy who wins three world championships in the same year; the most recent cowboy to do so was superstar Trevor Brazile in 2008 and 2010.

Try- A noun used for both cowboys and livestock, denoting grit, determination, fitness, stamina and resilience: “Give that cowboy a hand – he had a lot of try”.

Turn Out- A cowboy may turn out of a rodeo if, for example, he has a scheduling conflict; this is different from “doctor-releasing” due to injury.

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