The American Professional Rodeo Association sanctions eight events that its members can accumulate points in during competition towards year-end awards. These eight events are divided into two divisions, standard and optional.
Standard events must be offered at all APRA sanctioned rodeos. They include: bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, calf roping, team roping, cowgirls breakaway roping and cowgirls barrel racing. Added money must be divided evenly among these events unless one particular event is featured at the rodeo. (The stock contractor/rodeo committee does have the option, however, to omit team roping at one performance rodeos or to limit entering in the team roping to one time if the added money is doubled in this event.)
Bareback Bronc Riding
Developed in the arena, bareback riding has no actual tie-in with daily ranch duties, however, it is one of the sport's most popular events.
Instead of a saddle, a double-thick leather pad, called a "rigging" is cinched on the bronc's back. No stirrups or reins are used. Slightly off center at the top of the rigging is a leather handhold much like a suitcase handle. Bareback riders like the one handhold as snug-fitting as possible for grip. Spurs and a glove are the only other riding gear needed, but chaps are often worn, similar to those used in saddle bronc riding.
The higher and wilder a bareback rider spurs, the better his marking by the judges. Animals are assessed by two judges, each marking from 1 to 25 points. The rider also receives from 1 to 25 points for his performance from each judge. The highest possible score is 100.
Serous injury occurs more often in this event than in any other sport. The loose-hided animals may add injury to gore or trample a fallen rider. They are most dangerous as well in the chute, where their leaning weight can easily break a rider's legs.
Woven with a single handhold, a flat-braided length of Manila rope about an inch-and-a-quarter in width is used noose fashion around the bull, set just behind the animal's shoulders. A weighted bell is also attached to the rope, which allows it to fall free when the ride is completed. A rider dismounts on his own, and relies on the bull-baiting "clown" to keep the animal's attention while he gets out of range.
The contest is judged basically the same as both bronc riding events, with the bull being given 1 to 25 points and the rider given 1 to 25 points each by two judges. A score of 100 would be a perfect ride.
Saddle Bronc Riding
The identity of the first man to tangle with a bucking horse is hidden in history, but saddle bronc riding is the cornerstone of all rodeo competition. Experience and know-how are paramount in this even where the rules are stickily in favor of the animal.
Saddles are uniform in design. They must comply with measurements set forth by the American Professional Rodeo Association. One rein is used, usually of braided Manila, some six feet long and an inch-and-a-half thick. It is fastened to the halter of the bucking horse. Spurs are short shanked, with dull rowels.
Leaving the chute, the rider tries at once to find "timing" with the bronc's action. His spurred feet should fall into rhythmic stride, going to the animal's shoulders as it kicks high behind, moving back toward the saddle's cantle as the bronc jumps.
Time begins when the animal's front feet hit the ground when the chute gate opens and continues for eight seconds. Scoring is done identical to the bareback riding with two judges assessing the animal's performance and the rider's performance, totalling a possible 100 points.
Developed in the rodeo arena, steer wrestling (or "bulldogging") was never a part of ranch work. Its origin began in the early 1930's and is attributed to Bill Pickett, a cowboy who worked in a Wild West Show who jumped on a run-away steer that had escaped the arena and wrestled it to the ground.
A steer wrestling horse is the only equipment. There is a helper, the hazer, whose only duty is to keep the steer running as straight as possible.
The spot where a steer wrestler's feel hit the ground after taking hold of the steer is key to future action. A good steer wrestling horse sweeps by, leaving the cowboy's legs extended at a 45-degree angle to the steer's path. This allows the combination of angle and speed to swing the animal around in an arc and at the top of the swing, the steer wrestler reaches for the right horn tip, using his left hand as additional leverage under the steer's jaw. Off-balance momentum plus upturned head cause the steer to literally throw himself.
A coordinate effort of horse and rider against time, calf roping has developed to such high competitive polish that only hundreds of a second divide the winners.
Lariat ropes are tied at one end around the saddle horn, the other end forms the catch loop. A slimmer six-foot length of rope, called a piggin string, is usually tucked in the roper's belt and held in his teeth for quick access when he ties the calf.
The calf is given a head start, and then the roper must catch it while at a full run, dismount his horse, throw the calf by hand and tie any three legs together, then signal for time. The roper must then remain tied for five seconds or the run will be disqualified.
Competitive team roping took shape from a routine procedure on cattle ranches where animals were doctored and branded long before the modern squeeze chute came into use. And there still are cattlemen who be live stretching an animal out with lariat ropes is the most practical way, especially on the open range.
In the rodeo arena, the steer is given a head start. The header then must rope the steer's horns, take a wrap around his saddle horn (dally) with the rope and then turn the direction of the steer before the heeler immediately ropes the steer's hind legs and dallies his rope around his saddle horn. Time is called when both horses are facing each other with the steer in the middle and both ropes tight.
Barrel racing adds color to any rodeo, and the element of speed makes it even more exciting for the spectators. In addition to the visual appeal of the brilliantly dressed ladies in the saddle, those who appreciate fast, good looking horses get an eye full during this event.
Testing speed and agility of both cowgirl and horse, a three-cornered course around 55-gallon drums is marked off in the arena. Contestant will run in a cloverleaf pattern, starting either to left or right. Starting and finish line are one and the same with computerized times recorded in the thousandths of a second.
Barrel racing horses, often veterans of the racetrack, are taught to run flat-out, collect themselves, turn 360 degrees, then do it all tow more times, in a different location. Because of the difficulty involved in finding a horse with the characteristics of speed, agility and trainability, barrel racing horses often sell for six-figure prices.
Also a coordinated effort of horse and rider against time, the event is similar to the traditional calf roping except that the cowgirls do not have to throw and tie the calf after catching it.
Instead the ropes are tied to the saddle horn by a heavy string in such a manner that allows it to break away from the horn when the calf reached the end of the rope. A white flag is tied to the end of the rope at the saddle horn to make it easer for the field judge to see it break free. Time begins when the calf is given a head start from the chute and ends with the break of the rope from the saddle horn.
A cowgirl received no time should she break the rope from the horn by hand or touch the rope or string after the catch is made.