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Rodeo today is a popular sport, particularly in the western United States and neighboring areas of western Canada and northern Mexico. Through much of North America’s history, cowboys (vaqueros in Spanish) developed and perfected a complicated set of roping and riding skills to deal with horses and cattle. Informal competitions to prove athletic prowess and skill were the inevitable result, leading to today’s modern sport. The word “rodeo” is of Spanish origin and is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable. In rodeo, all the participants and many of the spectators wear “western-wear”, or cowboy outfits.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), sanctions many of the nation’s major rodeos, including the world championship held each year in Las Vegas. Professional Bull Riders (PBR) is of recent vintage and deals solely with the rough and tumble sport of bull riding.

Major rodeo events include:

  • Bronc riding, in which the participant must successfully ride a bucking bronco horse, either bareback or using a saddle, for a minimum of eight seconds, earning additional points based on the judges’ assessment of form and skill. The sport arose from the necessity among cowboys to “break” a wild horse by getting it used to a rider.
  • Bull riding. The cowboy must remain atop an enraged bull for eight seconds, and do so skillfully to earn maximum points. This sport can be dangerous or sometimes fatal. Bull riding is a world apart. For safety reasons, brightly attired “rodeo clowns” act to distract the bull after the cowboy has gotten down from the animal or been “bucked off,” allowing handlers to coax the dangerous animal back into an enclosure. Unlike bronco riding, bull riding has no basis in real-world cowboy skills. Because of the intensity of the sport, the raising of these specialty bulls is big business. Certain very difficult bulls may become famous in their own right. Bull riding may take place as one event during a general rodeo, although in recent years specialized bull riding tournaments have become common.
  • Calf roping. Cowboys on the range often need to rope a calf in order to subdue it for branding or other purposes. In the sport, the cowboy on a well-trained horse ropes the running calf, wrestles it to the ground it, and ties three of its feet together. The cowboy with the quickest time wins.
  • Steer wrestling is also a timed event. Here the cowboy on horseback chases a steer, jumps to the ground, grabs the steer by the horns and wrestles it to the ground. Unsurprisingly, steer wresters tend to be big and brawny.
  • Barrel racing is largely a women’s sport. The cowgirl races a well-trained horse around a course set with barrels with the aim of completing the course in the quickest time without knocking any of the barrels over.

In addition to competitive events, rodeos may see a bit of pageantry, including exhibitions of trick riding and trick roping. When they are not protecting riders, rodeo clowns may actually amuse the audience by clowning around and poking fun at cowboys and rodeo events. Musical performances, usually involving “country and western” music, may occur. Rodeos vary in size from those taking place in major sports arenas down to local “dirt” rodeos, and every size in between.

A number of animal protection groups have often generated controversy by calling various rodeo events cruel and lobbying for better treatment of the animals involved in the sport. By contrast, public concern for the human participants injured or even killed in the sport is virtually nonexistent.

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