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How to Watch a Rodeo

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Practically every weekend during the summer, a rodeo can be found somewhere in Montana. This truly Western sport began as the result of activities performed by working cowboys on their day-to-day jobs. Calf roping was done when a calf had to be caught for doctoring and branding, and saddle bronc riding was performed when breaking a horse to ride. It wasn't long before cowboys began gathering regularly to test their skills and prove who was the toughest cowboy and best rider. This contest usually took place after the annual roundup, and it was called a rodeo, the Spanish word for roundup.

In the 1880s, admission was charged for the first time and the sport developed rapidly as professional entertainment. Cowboys began traveling from rodeo to rodeo, and soon formed their own association. Over the years, rodeo has developed into a series of eight events: bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, team roping, the wild horse race and ladies' barrel racing. A time limit of eight seconds was set for all riding events to maintain the health of the bucking stock.

An important part of the modern rodeo is the parade preceding it that generally features horse-drawn vehicles, equestrian units, floats, drill teams, clowns, bands and antique cars. The parade provides an opportunity for the whole community to participate in rodeo activities. The rodeo itself opens with the "grand entry." Mounted drill teams and rodeo royalty enter the arena and display the "colors." Then, the announcer's voice booms from the loudspeaker, "Let's go, let's show, let's rodeo!" and the events begin.

The stock used in the rodeo plays an important role. A good bucking horse or a mean bull add considerably to the excitement of the contest. On the average, rodeo stock works about one hour out of the entire year.

Today's rodeo cowboy is a professional athlete. He competes for personal pride. It's man against animal, and skills like strength, balance, timing and coordination are all required.

Friendship runs deep among rodeo cowboys. Danger and luck draw them together. They know no financial security and seek none. Cowboys pay their own way, putting up to $200 to enter a single event. Some only compete part-time and others will enter more than 100 rodeos in a single year. Rodeo contestants compete for a "purse," and the top money-winning cowboys attend the National Finals Rodeo each December to compete for world championship titles.

Montana is the home of such unique rodeos as the All Indian Rodeo in Wolf Point, the Old Timers Rodeo in Roundup (where contestants must be at least 40 to enter), the College National Finals Rodeo in Bozeman and the Wild Horse Stampede in Wolf Point, the granddaddy of 'em all.

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Saddle Bronc Riding

Saddle Bronc Riding originated on the ranch when it was necessary for the cowboy to obtain transportation the hard way. Saddle broncs are not trained to buck, but do so instinctively. The leather flank strap is an added inducement to buck. It is not painful, just annoying. The rider uses a braided rope called a "buck rein" and standard Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) saddle. He uses a swinging leg motion called a "lick" to keep rhythm and one hand in the air to keep his balance. A good rider will look as if he's in a rocking chair. Back on the ranch, cowboys would ride the broncs until they broke the horse or were bucked off. Today, in the rodeo arena, they have to stay on for only eight seconds. The bronc rider is judged on how well he rides and the animal on how well he bucks. Each can score up to 50 points with maximum for the ride being 100 points. Two men on horseback, called "pick-up men," are in the arena to help the cowboy dismount when the ride is over.

Bareback Riding

Bareback Riding horses are generally smaller, shiftier and faster than those used for saddle broncs. No stirrups or reins are used in this event. The rider has only a stiff leather strap that goes around the horse's belly, called a "rigging." The handhold on the rigging provides the cowboy his only means of staying on. The rider must spur the horse the entire 8 seconds and is disqualified if he touches the horse with his free hand or misses the horse with his spurs on the first jump. Again, a cowboy can receive a maximum of 100 points for his ride.

Calf Roping

Calf Roping is a timed event and depends on harmony between the cowboy and his horse. The calf is given a 10-foot lead in this race. The cowboy must not break his rope barrier prematurely when coming out of the "box'' or he will be penalized. It is the horse's job to position the cowboy near the speeding calf and enable the roper to bring him to a halt. Once the cowboy dismounts, the horse must work the rope to keep it taut while the cowboy downs the calf and ties three legs together.

Steer Wrestling

Steer Wrestling is sometimes called "bull dogging." This event requires two people, a "dogger" and a "hazer." Doggers are among the most physical athletes in a very physical sport. While the hazer keeps the steer running in a straight line down the arena, the dogger must leap from a horse sprinting up to 25 miles per hour onto a 700-pound Mexican steer, grab it by the horns, stop it and wrestle it to the ground. This is a timed event, and the cowboy who can perform this task in the shortest amount of time wins.

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Bull Riding

Bull Riding is the ultimate contest between man and beast. A bull rider averaging 5'8" and 150 pounds is pitted against a 1,500-pound bull. PRCA rules require a one-handed ride with a loose rope. This flat, braided rope is placed around the bull's belly and then wrapped around the rider's hand so that it will fall off when the cowboy dismounts. The cowboy is not required to spur the bull during his eight-second ride, but spurring will add to his score. To a bull rider, rodeo clowns represent life itself. While they take time for fun and games, the clowns have one primary mission-to rescue cowboys. These "matadors" distract the bull once the cowboy is off, allowing him to escape any way he can.






Barrel Racing

Barrel Racing is a test of women's skills. In this event, women run highly-trained horses through a cloverleaf pattern at breakneck speeds. The main requirement of the barrel racer is to recognize the conditions of the arena, then ride her horse in such a way that she can trim every hundredth of a second off her time. Barrel racing is a close, exacting, exciting contest and beautiful to watch. It takes a fast, agile horse and a skillful rider with exceptional horse sense.

The Wild Horse Race

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The Wild Horse Race is a thrilling event included in many Montana rodeos. Unlike the bucking stock used in the standard riding event, these horses are truly wild. A team of two "muggers" must hold the horse long enough to saddle him and allow a third man to mount and ride him. There are usually two lines at opposite ends of the arena which the rider must cross. The excitement of the other horses, muggers, riders and spectators adds to the fireworks.
















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