There are different types of rodeo events all judged by Professional Rodeo Judges. There are scored events, such as bull riding, saddle bronc, bareback bronc, rookie saddle bronc, barrel racing and a wild horse race. Timed events include steer wrestling, tie-down roping, steer roping, and team roping. There are also the Dinner Bell Derby and the Trick Riders and Ropers.
Bull riding is the most dangerous event because bulls are untamed, weight about 2,000 pounds and have horns they like to use to gore a fallen rider. A cowboy has to stay on the back of this bucking, spinning, and jerking machine for eight seconds to get a score. A rider grasps a bull rope with one hand, which is tied around the bull’s chest. The cowboy uses his free hand to balance his body. He has to sit straight, arching his back. Leaning back is dangerous because when a bull bucks, he throws the rider forward, which can result in a deadly situation.
Bullfighters and a rodeo clown play a very important role in rescuing fallen cowboys. They risk their lives to distract the bull and save the cowboy’s life. One of the star bulls was Sharkey, who performed in Cheyenne Frontier Days and other rodeos during the early 1900s.
Saddle Bronc riding is a classical rodeo event. It emerged from spontaneous cowboys’ competitions on ranches. Cowboys challenged each other over who was the best in breaking broncs and who can ride in the best style. During a professional rodeo event broncs are drawn for the each competitor. There are certain rules that have to be followed by cowboys in order to get a score. The cowboy’s feet have to be above the bronc’s shoulders at the start and he has to coordinate his spurring with the bucking of the bronc. The rider has to stay on the horse for eight seconds, holding a rein with one hand and using his free hand for balance. The cowboy’s free hand can’t touch the horse, his saddle, or himself.
In a Bareback Bronc event it is also a requirement to ride for eight seconds. The feet of the rider have to be above the broncs shoulders on the first jump of the horse out of the chute until bronc’s hoofs touch the ground. There is no saddle just a handle made of leather to hold onto. The cowboy can’t touch the animal or himself with his free hand. The cowboy has to lean back and pull his feet across the bronc’s shoulders to coordinate spurring with the bronc’s jumps. This event is technically very difficult and has a high rate of injuries.
The total score in the events, mentioned above, is given based on a maximum of 50 points for a cowboy plus a maximum of 50 points given to a bull or a bronco. A total score in the low 80s is considered good and a score in high 80s is excellent.
Steer Wrestling is also called bulldogging. Two cowboys, a steer wrestler and a hazer, both on horseback, start chasing a steer only after the steer reaches 30 feet ahead of the starting point. The hazer keeps the steer in line for the wrestler, while the latter reaches from his horse to grab the steer by the horns. Keeping his grip on the horns, the wrestler jumps from his horse and dig his heels into the ground in order to stop the steer. As the steer slows down the wrestler throws the steer to the ground using his arm as leverage. Sometimes, both the steer and the wrestler make a somersault when the steer does not slow down. It is a very dangerous event.
One of the stars of bulldogging was Willie W. Pickett (1870-1932), a black cowboy, who actually invented this contest. His performance became a sensation in the 1904 Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo when he wrestled a steer to the ground by biting the animal’s upper lip while twisting and straining the steer’s neck with his arms. He learned to bite a steer’s upper lip by watching dogs round up cattle. This biting trick in steer wrestling was adopted by other steer wrestlers later.
Pickett, who used to pick up cotton on the farm in Texas, was invited to perform in the Miller Brother’s 101 Wild West Show. He performed in many events and also performed for Queen Alexandra in England. In 1909, when the show performed in Mexico City, he was wrestling the meanest and strongest bull in Mexico, Frijoli Chiquita. Joe Miller, the owner of the show, bet on Pickett. Pickett won, but the crowd of 25,000 spectators and the President of Mexico, Diaz, were furious. They were throwing oranges, stones, and bottles at Pickett. As a result of a thrown beer bottle Pickett had three broken ribs, but Miller won the wager of 5,000 pesos and the gate of 48,000 pesos. Will Pickett was inducted into the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Tie-Down roping is a timed event where cowboys show their skills developed by working on a ranch. A calf is given a 30-foot advantage to get away from a cowboy on horseback. The cowboy throws a loop to catch the calf. If he did not miss his target he jumps off his horse and quickly ties three legs of the calf. The calf has to stay tied for at least 6 seconds, otherwise the cowboy gets a “no time.” The cowboy, who does it in the shortest time, is the winner.
Steer Roping rules are almost the same as described for tie-down roping except that a steer is much bigger than a calf and has to be pulled to the ground after been lassoed. A cowboy throws the slack rope over the steer’s right hip, while riding on the left in order to pull the animal to the ground. When the steer is on the ground the cowboy dismounts and quickly ties the steer’s three legs.
Women trick riders have continued to amaze their fans since the early Cheyenne Frontier Days to the present.
Today Barrel Racing is the only event in Cheyenne Frontier Day where cowgirls, all members of Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, compete with each other. There are three barrels that a horse has to race around. The horse has to be very fast and also agile to race around the barrels without tipping any of them over. However, during early Cheyenne Frontier Days women participated in the same events as men, such as bronco riding, bulldogging, relay, trick riding and trick roping.
Team Roping came from the necessity to catch and treat sick or injured animals. A steer gets a 30 foot advantage at the start before a header and a heeler start to chase him. The header has to rope the steer around the horns or the head and make the steer change direction so that the heeler could rope the steer by the both hind legs. Great team work of the header and the heeler is necessary in order for a team to succeed.
The Wild Horse Race is exciting, funny and one of the crowd’s favorite events. The commotion starts with the shot of a gun, when a few teams, each consisting of three cowboys, try to saddle and ride a few unbroken broncos. One cowboy holds a bronc by a rope, the second cowboy saddles the bronc and the third cowboy tries to get onto the bronc and ride it in the right direction around the arena. The first to cross the finish line is the winner. But it is looks like an almost impossible job, because broncs resist being ridden from the very start. Many do not even allow themselves to be saddled. It is not uncommon for a team of cowboys, trying to hold the rope, to be dragged in the dirt by the bronc. Sometimes, even after being saddled, the bronc bucks, jumps, and rushes in the opposite direction. It’s so hilarious, you have to see it.
The Dinner Bell Derby is another popular event. Adorable colts race to their mothers to be fed. They keep them hungry and these cute babies run as fast as they can to get milk.
During early Cheyenne Frontier Days there were Wild Cows Milking Contests. Teams of three men tried to rope a wild cow. Two of them then held the cow by the neck while the third man tried to milk into a bottle with a narrow neck. According to the rules of the contest none of the three men were allowed to hold the rear end of the cow, which of course bucked a lot. When there was a reasonable amount of milk in the bottle, the milkman ran to the judges with the bottle of milk. The fastest team won.
To be continued.
Wyoming Tales and Trails featuring Photographs and History of Old Wyoming by G.B Dobson: http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/frontierdays.html.