Rodeo (IPAEng|ˈroʊdioʊ or IPA|/roʊˈdeɪoʊ/) is a sport which arose out of the working practices of cattle herding in Spain, Mexico, and later the United States, Canada, South America and Australia. It was based on the skills required of the working vaqueros and later, cowboys, of what today is the western United States, western Canada, and northern Mexico. Today it is a sporting event that consists of several different timed and judged events that involve cattle and horses, designed to test the skill and speed of the human cowboy and cowgirl athletes who participate.

Rodeo, particularly popular today within the Canadian province of Alberta and throughout the western United States, is the official state sport of Wyoming and Texas, and the iconic silhouette image of a Bucking Horse and Rider is a federal and state registered trademark of the State of Wyoming. [General Wyoming Information, web site accessed July 12, 2007 at]

In North America, the traditional season for competitive rodeo runs from spring through fall. The traditional peak time for the largest number of rodeos is the July 4th weekend. The modern professional rodeo circuit runs longer, and concludes with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Las Vegas, Nevada which is now held in December.

Rodeo has provoked protest and opposition from animal rights advocates who argue that various competitions constitute animal cruelty. In some cases, these groups have succeeded in having a number of local municipalities ban or restrict certain events.


The American English word "rodeo" is taken directly from Spanish. The most common English translation is "round up." [Webster's Third New International Dictionary ]

The Spanish word is derived from the verb "rodear," meaning "to surround" or "go around," used to refer to "a pen for cattle at a fair or market," derived from the Latin "rota" or "rotare," meaning to rotate or go around. [ [ rodeo] ] [ [ Royal Spanish Academy Online Dictionary: rodeo] ]

In Spanish America, the "rodeo" was the vaqueros' procedure for gathering up cattle for various purposes such as moving them to new pastures or to slaughter ("matanza"). The term was also used to refer to exhibitions of skills used in the working "rodeo", and it is this latter usage which was adopted into the cowboy tradition of the United States and Canada. [ [ Matanza: A New Mexico Celebration] ]

The term "rodeo" was first used in English approximately 1834 to refer to a cattle round-up. [Definitions and etymology of rodeo, web site accessed June 27, 2007 at]


Rodeo events in the United States and Canada include the following forms of competition:

Timed events

* Barrel racing and pole bending - the timed speed and agility events seen in rodeo as well as gymkhana or O-Mok-See competition. Both men and women compete in speed events at gymkhanas or O-Mok-Sees; however, at rodeos, barrel racing is an exclusively women's sport. In a barrel race, horse and rider gallop around a cloverleaf pattern of barrels, making agile turns without knocking the barrels over. In pole bending, horse and rider run the length of a line of six upright poles, turn sharply and weave through the poles, turn again and weave back, then return to the start. Only barrel racing is seen in professional competition.
* Steer wrestling - Also known as "Bulldogging," this is a rodeo event where the rider jumps off his horse onto a steer and 'wrestles' it to the ground by grabbing it by the horns. This is probably the single most physically dangerous event in rodeo for the cowboy, who runs a high risk of jumping off a running horse head first and missing the steer, or of having the thrown steer land on top of him, sometimes horns first.
* Goat tying - usually an event for women or pre-teen girls and boys; a goat is staked out while a mounted rider runs to the goat, dismounts, grabs the goat, throws it to the ground and ties it in the same manner as a calf. This event was designed to teach smaller or younger riders the basics of calf roping without the more complex need to also rope the animal. This event is not part of professional rodeo competition.


Roping encompasses a number of timed events that are based on the real-life tasks of a working cowboy, who often had to capture calves and adult cattle for branding, medical treatment and other purposes. A lasso or lariat is thrown over the head of a calf or the horns and heels of adult cattle, and the animal is secured in a fashion dictated by its size and age.
* Calf Roping, officially changed to "Tie-down roping" by the PRCA - A calf is roped around the neck by a lariat, the horse stops and sets back on the rope while the cowboy dismounts, runs to the calf, throws it to the ground and ties three feet together. (If the horse throws the calf, the cowboy must lose time waiting for the calf to get back to its feet so that the cowboy can do the work. The job of the horse is to hold the calf steady on the rope) This activity is still practiced on modern working ranches for branding, medical treatment, and so on.
* Team roping, also called "heading and heeling," is the only rodeo event where men and women riders may compete together. Two people capture and restrain a full-grown steer. One horse and rider, the "header," lassos a running steer's horns, while the other horse and rider, the "heeler," lassos the steer's two hind legs. Once the animal is captured, the riders face each other and lightly pull the steer between them, so that it loses its balance and lays over, thus in the real world allowing restraint for treatment.
* Breakaway roping - an easier form of calf roping where a very short lariat is used, tied lightly to the saddle horn with string and a flag. When the calf is roped, the horse stops, allowing the calf to run on, flagging the end of time when the string and flag breaks from the saddle. In the United States, this event is primarily for women of all ages and boys under 12, while in some nations where traditional "tie-down" calf roping is frowned upon, riders of both genders compete.
* Steer Roping - rarely seen in the United States today because of the tremendous risk of injury to all involved, as well as animal cruelty concerns. A single roper ropes the steer around the horns, throws the rope around the steer's back hip, dallies, and rides in a ninety degree angle to the roped steer (opposite side from the forementioned hip). This action brings the head around toward the legs in such a manner as to redirect the steer's head towards its back legs. This causes the steer to "trip". Steers are too big to tie in the manner used for calves, and absent a "heeler," it is very difficult for one person to restrain a grown steer once down. However, the fall caused by the "trip" causes the steer to temporarirly be incapacitated and can then be tied as in calf roping. The event does not have significant roots in ranch practices north of the Rio Grande, but is sometimes still seen at rodeos in Mexico, sometimes also referred to as "steer tripping."

"Rough Stock" competition

In spite of popular myth, most modern "broncs" are not in fact wild horses, but are more commonly spoiled riding horses or horses bred specifically as bucking stock. Rough stock events also use well-trained riding horses ridden by "pick up men" (or women), of whom there are usually at least two, tasked with assisting fallen riders and helping successful riders get safely off the bucking animal.
* Bronc riding - there are two divisions in rodeo, bareback bronc riding, where the rider is only allowed to hang onto a bucking horse with a type of surcingle called a "rigging," and saddle bronc riding, where the rider is allowed a specialized western saddle without a horn (for safety) and may hang onto a heavy lead rope, called a bronc rein, which is attached to a halter on the horse.
* Bull riding - an event where the cowboys ride full-grown bulls instead of horses. Although skills and equipment similar to those needed for bareback bronc riding are required, the event differs considerably from horse riding competition due to the danger involved. Because bulls are unpredictable and may attack a fallen rider, Rodeo clowns, now known as "Bullfighters," work during bull riding competition to help prevent injury to competitors.

History of rodeo

Many rodeo events were based on the real life tasks required by cattle ranching. The working cowboy developed skills to fit the needs of the terrain and climate of the American west, and had many regional variations. However, the skills required to manage cattle and horses date back even farther, to the Spanish traditions of the "vaquero."

Early rodeos were informal events in both Mexico and the United States where cowboys and "vaqueros" tested their skills against one another. Early competitions were noted by the mid-1860s, and by the late 1800s, there were several formal competitive rodeos as well as traveling Wild West Shows that featured rodeo activities as a form of entertainment. By 1910, several major rodeos were established in western North America, including the Calgary Stampede, the Pendleton Round-Up, and the Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Rodeo-type events also became popular for a time in the big cities of the Eastern United States, with venues such as Madison Square Garden playing a part in popularizing them. However, there was no attempt to standardize the events needed to make up rodeo competition until 1929.

Organizations governing rodeo

Formal organizations and detailed rules came late to rodeo. Until the mid-1930’s, every rodeo was independent and selected its own events from among nearly one hundred different contests. Until World War I, there was little difference between rodeo and Charreada, and athletes from the US, Mexico and Canada competed freely in all three countries. Subsequently, Charreada was formalized as an amateur team sport and the international competitions ceased, although it remains popular in Mexico and the Hispanic communities of the U.S. today. [LeCompte,. “Hispanic Roots of American Rodeo, Studies in Latin American Popular Culture”, 13 (Spring 1994): 1-19]

There are numerous organizations governing rodeo today, each with slightly different rules, different roles for women, and different events. [Wooden. and Earinger. Rodeo, in America, 17-32.]

The oldest and largest sanctioning body of professional rodeo is the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) which sanctions around 700 rodeos annually. It was originally named the Cowboys Turtle Association, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the speed at which cowboys organized themselves. The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) is a more recent organization dedicated solely to bull riding. The Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) is open exclusively to women age 18 and over. There are also high-school rodeos, sponsored by the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA). Many colleges, particularly land grant colleges in the west, have rodeo teams. The National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) is responsible for the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) held each June in Casper, WY. [ [ College National Rodeo Finals] ] Other rodeo governing bodies in the United States include American Junior Rodeo Association (AJRA) for contestants under twenty years of age; National Little Britches Rodeo Association (NLBRA), for youths ages eight to eighteen; Senior Pro Rodeo (SPR), for people forty years old or over; and the International Gay Rodeo Association. Each organization has its own regulations and its own method of determining champions. Athletes must participate only in rodeos sanctioned by their own governing body or one that has a mutual agreement with theirs. Rodeo committees must pay sanctioning fees to the appropriate governing bodies, and employ the needed stock contractors, judges, announcers, bull fighters, and barrel men from their approved lists. Other nations have similar sanctioning organizations.

Until recently, the most important was PRCA, which crowns the World Champions at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), held since 1985 at Las Vegas, Nevada, featuring the top fifteen money-winners in seven events. The athletes who have won the most money, including NFR earnings, in each event are the World’s Champions. However, since 1992, Professional Bull Riders, Inc. (PBR) has drawn many top bull riders, and holds its own multi- million dollar finals in Las Vegas prior to the NFR. Women’s barrel racing is governed by the WPRA, and holds its finals along with the PRCA with the cowboys at the NFR. [LeCompte. “Rodeo,” in Vol. II of Encyclopedia of World Sport, ed. David Levinson and Karen Christensen, ABC-CLIO, 1996, 813;About Us,"sv, (accessed February 7, 2007).]

Contemporary rodeo is a lucrative business. More than 7,500 cowboys compete for over thirty million dollars at 650 rodeos annually. Women’s barrel racing, sanctioned by the WRPA, has taken place at most of these rodeos. Over 2,000 barrel racers compete for nearly four million dollars annually. Professional cowgirls also compete in bronc and bull riding, team roping and calf roping under the auspices of the PWRA, a WPRA subsidiary. However, numbers are small, about 120 members, and these competitors go largely unnoticed, with only twenty rodeos and seventy individual contests available annually. The total purse at the PWRA National Finals is $50,000. [LeCompte, Encyclopedia of World Sport, 813.] Meanwhile, the PBR has 700 members from three continents and ten million dollars in prize money. []

Animal cruelty controversies

Charges that rodeos are cruel to the animals involved are not new, and some practices justly warranted scrutiny. Concerns about animal cruelty were raised as far back as 1886. Over the years, conditions for animals in rodeo and many other sporting events improved. Today, the PRCA and other rodeo sanctioning organizations have stringent regulations to ensure rodeo animals' welfare. [ PRCA Animal welfare] ] For example, these rules require, among other things, provisions for injured animals, a veterinarian's presence at all rodeos (a similar requirement exists for other equine events), and spurs with dulled, free-spinning rowels. Rodeo competitors in general have a high level of esteem for the animals with which they work. [Miller, Robert M. and Rick Lamb. (2005) Revolution in Horsemanship Lyons Press ISBN 1-59228-387-X pp. 135-144]

However, a number of humane and animal rights organizations have policy statements that oppose many rodeo practices, and often the events themselves. Some also claim that regulations vary from vague to ineffective, and are frequently violated. [ is a point-by-point examination of the PRCA's regulations.]

In response to these concerns, a number of cities and states, mostly in the eastern half of the United States, have passed ordinances and laws governing rodeo. Pittsburgh, for example, specifically prohibits electric prods or shocking devices, flank or bucking straps, wire tie-downs, and sharpened or fixed spurs or rowels. Pittsburgh also requires humane officers be provided access to any and all areas where animals may go—specifically pens, chutes, and injury pens. Other locales have similar ordinances and laws. [ [ PETA: Buck the Rodeo] ]

Positions taken by animal welfare organizations

There are three basic areas of concern to various groups. The first set of concerns surround relatively common rodeo practices, such as the use of bucking straps, also known as flank straps, [ [ SHARK - Animal Cruelty Investigations and Campaigns ] ] the use of metal or electric cattle prods, [ [ The Truth about Hot-Shots ] ] and tail-twisting. [ [ SHARK - Animal Cruelty Investigations and Campaigns ] ] The second set of concerns surround non-traditional rodeo events that operate outside the rules of sanctioning organizations. These are usually amateur events such as mutton busting, calf dressing, [ [ SHARK - Animal Cruelty Investigations and Campaigns ] ] wild cow milking, calf riding, chuck wagon races, and other events designed primarily for publicity, half-time entertainment or crowd participation. Finally, some groups consider some or all rodeo events themselves to be cruel. [ [ Calf roping - The Most Cowardly Rodeo Event ] ] steer roping, [ [ SHARK - Animal Cruelty Investigations and Campaigns ] ]

Groups such as PETA, SHARK, [ [ SHARK] ] and the Humane Society of the United States generally take a position of opposition to all rodeos and rodeo events. ["Statement on Animals in Entertainment and Competition - Rodeo" Humane Society of the United States. Web site accessed June 28, 2007 at] A more general position is taken by the ASPCA, only opposing rodeo events that "involve cruel, painful, stressful and potentially harmful treatment of livestock, not only in performance but also in handling, transport and prodding to perform." The group singles out children’s rodeo events such as goat tying, calf riding and sheep riding (“mutton busting”), "which do not promote humane care and respect for animals.""Animals in Entertainment: 5.4 Rodeo" web site accessed June 27, 2007 at]

The American Humane Association (AHA) does not appear to oppose rodeos per se, though they have a general position on events and contests involving animals, stating that "when animals are involved in entertainment, they must be treated humanely at all times." ["Events and Contests Involving Animals," "American Humane Association Animal Welfare Position Statements." Web document accessed June 28, 2007 at] The AHA also has strict requirements for the treatment of animals used for rodeo scenes in movies, starting with the rules of the PRCA and adding additional requirements consistent with the association's other policies. ["American Humane Association Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media:Roceo Scenes," web document accessed June 27, 2007 at]

Unique among animal protection groups, the ASPCA specifically notes that practice sessions are often the location of more severe abuses than competitions. However, many state animal cruelty laws provide specific exemptions for "training practices." The American Humane Association is the only organization addressing the legislative issue, advocating the strengthening of animal cruelty laws in general, with no exceptions for "training practices." ["Legislative Brief: Anti-cruelty Laws" web site accessed June 27, 2007 at]

Independent views

Those outside either set of interest groups note that actual treatment of animals at rodeos can be found in economics. Severe animal cruelty at a North American-style rodeo is simply not profitable. Rodeo stock is an investment, and stock contractors who supply the best quality animals, who allow competitors to obtain the highest scores, particularly in the "rough stock" events, are the ones hired by rodeos. The injury rate of animals is also relatively low. In 1994, a survey of 28 sanctioned rodeos was conducted by on-site independent veterinarians. Reviewing 33,991 animal runs, the injury rate was documented at .00047 percent, or less than five-hundredths of one percent. ["Is Rodeo Bronc Riding Cruel?" Web article accessed June 28, 2007 at]

Myths and actual modern practice

Some accusations of cruelty are based on misunderstanding. For example, it is a myth that a bucking horse is a wild, terrified animal. The modern bronc is not a truly feral horse. Most bucking horses today are specifically bred for use in rodeos. A proven bucking horse can be sold for $8000 to $10,000, making "rough stock" a valuable investment worth caring for and keeping in good health for many years. Likewise, bucking bulls are also selectively bred. Most are allowed to grow up in a natural, semi-wild condition on the open range, but also have to be trained in order to be managed from the ground, safely loaded into trailers, vaccinated and wormed, and be loaded in and out of bucking chutes.Partian, Chris. "Diamond in the Rough." "Western Horseman," July 2007, pp. 132-140]

Young bucking horses are initially introduced to work with cloth dummies attached to the saddle. Others are already well-trained on the ground. Some champion bucking horses got their start as spoiled riding horses that learned to quickly and effectively unseat riders."Is Rodeo Bronc Riding Cruel?" Web article accessed June 28, 2007 at] Due to the rigors of travel and the short bursts of high intensity work required, most horses in a bucking string are at least 6 or 7 years old before they are used extensively, and are expected to be sound performers for many years. Awards are given to the owners of the best bucking horses, who are respected as equine athletes and perform for many years. ["Rodeo History" "Long Rodeo Company." Web site accessed June 28, 2007 at] Likewise, some bulls appear to understand that their "job" is to throw the rider and have learned not to buck when in the chute.

Industry position

Advocates for rodeo state that sick, injured, hungry, or severely abused animals cannot perform well in a given event. Rough stock must be healthy and well fed to give the cowboy a powerful and challenging ride sufficient to obtain a high score. The bucking strap has to be an incentive to an animal that already wants to buck off a rider, not a prod, or the animal will either flee the pain, not buck, quickly sour and refuse to work, regardless of any pain that might be inflicted. Steers and roping calves will not break from the chute fast enough for ropers to achieve a fast time if they are lame or weak, and they are not generally used for more than a single season.

Health regulations mandate vaccinations and blood testing of animals crossing state lines, so rodeo stock receives routine care. An injured animal will not buck well and hence a cowboy cannot obtain a high score for his ride, so sick or injured animals are not run through the chutes, but instead are given appropriate veterinary care so they can be returned to their usual level of strength and power. PRCA regulations require veterinarians to be available at all rodeos to treat both bucking stock and other animals as needed. [ PRCA Animal Welfare rules and discussion, web site accessed February 5 2008] ]

The PRCA emphasizes that they first promulgated rules for proper and humane treatment of livestock in 1947, a full 7 years before the founding of the Humane Society of the United States.

On the other hand, there are occasions of rule violations and animal mistreatment at sanctioned rodeos. However, the major national rodeos are also under the most intense scrutiny and are the most likely to rigorously follow the rules. Rodeos not subject to the rules of the PRCA or other organizations, and rodeos outside of the United States and Canada, where animal cruelty laws are weaker, are more likely to be the sites of abusive practices. However, animal rights groups are less likely to target these cases.

Rodeos worldwide

There are thousands of rodeos held worldwide each year.

Rodeo Associations

*Australian Professional Rodeo Association
*All Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association
* [ Canadian Cowboys Association]
* [ Canadian Professional Rodeo Association]
* [ Cowboy's Professional Rodeo Association]
* [ European Rodeo Cowboy Association]
* [ International Gay Rodeo Association]
* [ International Professional Rodeo Association]
* [ National Finals Rodeo (NFR) information]
*National High School Rodeo Association [ (NHSRA)]
*National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association [ (NIRA)]
* [ National Senior Pro Rodeo Association (NSPRA)]
* [ New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association (NZRCA)]
*Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association [ (PRCA)]
*Professional Bull Riders [ (PBR)]
*Women's Professional Rodeo Association
*Working Ranch Cowboys Association [ (WPRA)]
* [ United States Team Roping Championships]

Related sports

*Cutting (sport)
*Team penning
*O-Mok-See "or" Gymkhana
*Chilean rodeo

ee also

*Western riding
*Indian rodeo
*Rodeo bareback rigging
*Rodeo clown
*Cowboy church
*Buckle bunny
*Chilean rodeo


External links

* [ National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum]
* [ PRCA Animal Welfare Rules] : Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
* [ Rodeo Animal Injury Survey]
* [ Animal Welfare Factsheet]
* [ undercover investigation of rodeo abuse in Ohio]

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