Define: Sport of Rodeo
Rodeo. Where to begin? Its a crazy, as well as a crazy competitive sport. Your competition, animal and human alike, have little to no fear. Rodeo bangs the hell out of you on each and every go. A rider may not notice the bumps and bruises and broken ribs until the boots come off but any rider will attest to it. Rodeo can be a way of life, a summer road trip along any number of rodeo circuits, or a full blown career. And many times it'll prove to be all three. Rodeo'ing will test you at the physical and psychological extremes; fundamentally shaping and continually redefining one's character.
The sport is a result of the working practices of cattle herding in Mexico, Canada, Spain, South America, Australia, and the United States. It consists of events involving horses and livestock, designed to test skills and ability of the cowboy/girl athletes involved. A lot of the rodeo events have underlying roots and born of everyday type tasks needed for cattle ranching and farm handing; skills dating back hundreds of years.
These days, professional rodeos generally hold the following events, most of which we'll cover: Tie-down Roping, Team Roping, Steer Wrestling, Saddle Bronc Riding, Bareback Bronc Riding, Bull Riding and Barrel Racing. The events are divided into rough stock events and the timed events. Depending on the sanctioning organization, you can find events like breakaway roping or pole bending pretty common in rodeos as well.
Rodeo is HUGE in parts of Canada (Alberta for example, has considered making rodeo the official sport of the province, but the legislation has yet to be passed. [BOOO! C'mon already...]). Rodeo is also bigger than ever in the US, especially the western (and bestern ;) half, where rodeo is the official state sport of Wyoming, South Dakota and Texas. Didn't know that, did ya?! The silhouetted bucking horse/rider is actually a registered trademark of Wyoming.
In North America, rodeos are governed and sanctioned by associations like the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) for example, or the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA). There are a bunch of other well respected associations that should be mentioned, but so as not to leave anyone left out, we'll simply throw out a couple example governing structures. High school rodeos are generally sponsored by the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA). A lot of colleges, especially land grant colleges in the west, have collegiate rodeo teams. And the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) is responsible for the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) held each June in Casper, WY.
Surprising diversity is seen in rodeo too, from the American Junior Rodeo Association (AJRA), for contestants under twenty years of age; National Little Britches Rodeo Association (NLBRA), for youth ages eight to eighteen; Senior Pro Rodeo (SPR), for riders over forty; and the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), among others, all have a significant presence in the sport.
Each one has its own regulations and methods 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, barrel men and so on from independently approved lists.
More than 7,500 PRCA cowboys compete for over thirty million dollars at rodeos annually. Women's barrel racing, sanctioned by the WRPA, takes place at most of them, meaning 2,000 barrel racers compete for nearly four million dollars annually. Not bad. The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) has roughly 700 members from three continents and ten million dollars in annual prize money. These aren't exactly granpa's days of prize and money-added anymore!
Rodeo history 101
The first pro rodeo was claimed was Arizona in 1888. Rodeo steadily gained popularity and several major rodeos were established in western North America, including Canada (Canada has world class riders and events by the way), Oregon, and Wyoming if we had to choose a handful specific spots.
Rodeo has seen unprecedented growth over the last 3-4 decades, with events held at some of the largest and most respected venues and arenas in the country/world, showcasing purses that rival any other professional sport and proportionate million dollar athletes.
We should probably mention...
Rodeo provokes animal rights advocates. This is NOT new. Protests have been raised against rodeo animal cruelty since the 1800's. Hell I got a "rodeo is abuse" email just last week, no joke. Some local and state governments in the US have banned and restricted rodeos entirely and certain events and/or types of equipment. Internationally, rodeo is banned in the United Kingdom and Netherlands, while other European countries place restrictions on certain practices. That said, let's keep in mind that much of Europe is, well, largely European. Moving on.
The PRCA has for example, worked with the American Humane Association (AHA) in assuring the protection of rodeo animals for more than 50 years. Much of the opposition simply doesn't want to acknowledge the fact. The PRCA, among many rodeo associations have relatively strict regulations ensuring the animals' wellbeing. For example, a veterinarian's required presence at all rodeos (a similar requirement exists for other equine events), padded and fleece-lined flank straps, horn protection for roping steers, and spurs with dulled, free-spinning rowels. Rodeo athletes and stock contactors in general value and provide excellent care to the animals with which they work.
And to get a couple things straight here.
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 (wild/captured) horse. A significant number of bucking horses are riding horses that learned to buck off their riders. In fact most bucking horses today are specifically bred for show in rodeos. A proven bucking horse can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars, making "rough stock" a valuable investment and 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, wormed etc, and again further loaded in and out of bucking chutes.