Rough Stock Events
Tools of the Trade
A bell attached to the bull rope is required by every rodeo association in the US.
Bells add sound and action to a bull ride, but their weight pulls the rope off after the
rider dismounts. This speeds up the rodeo and makes life easier for the workers in
the stripping chute. Bells are commonly made of tinny, pliable copper material that
will crush if a bull steps on them, but can easily be pounded back out. Heavier bells
made of steel are not favored by stock contractors or clowns because they can lame
a bull if stepped on, or injure a person because of their weight. Sometimes these
bells are called clown killers.
The primary piece of equipment required in bull riding is the bull rope. Bull ropes are usually a braided poly rope with a handhold in the center. They can be left or right handed. The handhold is reinforced with leather lacing to make it stiff, and to stop it from twisting, or rolling over. If the rope rolls over, it is dangerous because the rider may become hung up in his rope. On one end of the rope is a loop. The tail of the rope is dropped under the bull, and pulled back through the loop like a slip knot. The rider then warms up the rosin on his rope to make it sticky, and wraps the tail around the back of his hand and back across the palm.
Chaps (pronounced Sh-aps) or Leggin's:
Chaps are a part of the cowboys "uniform" serving a few purposes. Chaps offer minimal protection, a bit of friction, a great surface area for sponsor advertising, and they just look cool.
A leather glove usually made of buckskin or steerhide is used in bull riding. Some riders prefer a thinner glove which will give them more feel, while others prefer a tougher glove that will last longer and offer more protection. The glove is usually strapped on with a Velcro strap around the wrist, or tied on with a latigo thong.
Helmet or Hat-Down: many old-school cowboys feel like a helmet creates interference and lures them into taking riding risks they wouldn't otherwise take so they prefer to ride "hat-down" with their traditional cowboy hat. Since changes made by the National High School Rodeo Association and the PBR (who requires helmets on all cowboys born after 1994) helmets have become expected standard safety equipment.
The bull rider uses either black or amber rosin and rubs it into the palm of his glove, and rosins up his rope by drawing his gloved hand across the tail and the handhold of the rope. This makes the rope sticky, giving him a better grip when he rides. Amber rosin is currently the most popular, but black rosin is often used. One disadvantage to black rosin is that it tends to be gummy and can make a mess out of a rope. Glycerin, commonly purchased as saddle soap, is also used by some riders before rosining their ropes. When glycerin is used the rope becomes extra sticky, but it must be used in moderation because too much will result in a hang up.
Rope pad: a piece of foam or sheepskin that is placed under the handhold to protect the rider's knuckles from the bull's backbone. Many rope pads are covered with suede or leather to make them more durable. Usually they tie on with latigo thongs or Velcro straps.
Bull spurs are primarily designed to grab the bulls hide, anchoring the riders feet and aiding him in his ride. Their second purpose is to spur the bull, resulting in a higher score for the rider and probably more action out of the animal. Bull riding spurs have fixed rowels, that is, they do not spin. Usually the rowels are locked by a cotter pin or bolt run through the shank of the spur between the teeth of the rowel. It is important to note Bull riding rowels are never sharp and riders are careful to keep the rowels dulled to prevent cutting the animals. Not only is cutting a bull likely to make a stock contractor unhappy, it is also of negative consequence to the rider. Many associations require a judge to inspect spurs before a is allowed to ride.
Vest: Vests protect the cowboy. If a bull hooks or steps on him the vest is designed to take most the impact and protect the cowboy from greater damage.
Bull riding is essentially a sport in which the cowboy tries to remain mounted on a bull as the bull tries to buck him off. Riders and bulls are usually matched up at random in what is called a draw prior to the start of a competition, although in some events riders do have a say in the matchups. As with bareback riding, bull riders ride with one hand and cannot touch themselves or their bull with the free hand. Doing so will result in a "no score." Unlike the horse events, there is no mark-out in bull riding. Cowboys can spur for extra points, but just staying on the bull for eight seconds is the main priority. After the ride, bull riders are aided by bullfighters or rodeo clowns and barrel men who distract the bull, allowing the Cowboys to escape safely.
How Bull Riding Is Judged
Judges award points based on how both riders and their animals perform. Scoring is the same as in the other rough-stock events. Two judges give between 1 and 25 points for the cowboy's performance and between 1 and 25 points for the animal's performance. One hundred points is the maximum and is considered a perfect ride. A good score in bull riding is in the 90s. There has been one perfect score of 100 in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Bull Riding Equipment
To ride, bull riders use a bull rope and a rosin. The bull rope is a thickly braided rope with a cowbell attached. The cowbell acts as a weight, allowing the rope to safely fall off the bull when the ride is over. The rosin is a sticky substance that increases the grip on their ropes. Bull riders wrap their bull rope around the bull and use the remainder to wrap around their hand tightly, trying to secure themselves to the bull.
Bull Riding's Popularity
Bull riding requires balance, flexibility, coordination, and courage. Facing down a 2,000-pound bull takes as much mental preparation as it does physical ability. Bull riding has taken on a life of its own with the Professional Bull Riders tour, and its popularity shows no signs of slowing down.
Citations: Clark, Ralph. "Bull Riding Basics." ThoughtCo, Aug. 22, 2019, thoughtco.com/bull-riding-basics-2901001.
Saddle bronc is the classic rodeo event that commemorates the work of breaking and training horses necessary to the operation of cattle ranches. Many cowboys claim riding saddle broncs is the toughest rodeo event to master because of the technical skills necessary for success (such as quantities of strength, grace & timing). Saddle bronc riders must synchronize with the movement of their horse. When it all comes together well, the ride is about like a pretty and fluid dance.
Saddle bronc has what is called the "mark out" rule. To properly mark out, the rider must have both heels touching the animal above the point of its shoulders when it makes its first jump from the chute. If the rider misses his mark, he receives no score.
Go-to-the-belly: Sometimes the mark out rule can be waived if a bronc stalls in the chute the judge may tell the rider they can "go on" or "go to the belly." This means the bronc rider can take his (or her) feet to the sides of the horse for the first jump out of the chute instead of having them over the points of the horse's shoulders. Being allowed to go to the belly waives the mark out rule for that one ride only.
Saddle bronc riders use a thick rein attached to his horse’s halter. With one hand, the cowboy tries to stay securely seated in his saddle. If he touches any part of the horse or his own body with his free hand, he is disqualified.
Judges score the horse’s bucking action, the cowboy’s control of the horse and the cowboy’s spurring action. Riders try to keep their toes turned out while spurring from the points of the horse’s shoulders to the back of the saddle. To score well, the rider must maintain that action throughout the eight-second ride. A smooth, rhythmic 8 second ride sure is the goal and will score better than a wild, uncontrolled 8 second effort.
What About that Flank Strap
The flank strap is an adjustable sheepskin-lined or padded leather strap that is fixed with quick-release catch.
Just as other equestrian sports use aids to elicit a desired response from the equine athlete, flank straps are simply an aid that cause a tickle or minor irritation that will enhance the bucking, kicking out and upward movement/behavior of a horse.
Adding a flank strap in and of itself does not make a horse buck, if a horse it not so inclined; good bucking horses are bred for the sport.
The flank is not pulled tight to cause bucking. It is pre-set so that it can only be pulled up to a certain point and no further.
The flank strap is fitted loosely while the animal stands in the chute. As the gate is opened and it leaves the chute, the strap is pulled up to its limit (snug to medium, depending on the preference of the horse). To do so earlier would risk injury to horse and rider as the pulling up of the strap is a cue for the animal to kick up and out.
The flank strap is not tied around a horse's genitals (many bucking horses are mares; if the function of a flank strap were contingent on placement around genitals, you would see bucking horses with flanks under their tail). If horses and bulls had a waist, you would best compare a flank strap is to a belt on a human.
The flank strap is a simple, sheepskin-covered rope tied around the bull’s flank area using a simple quick-release knot, prior to release from the chute. the flank does not go around the bull’s genitals.
The flank does not injure the animal in any way (including rubbing, abrasions etc.)
Bulls are bred to buck and they know when to perform which is why you will often see them stop bucking as soon as their rider leaves their back even though the flank strap is still attached.