In the sport of rodeo, cowboys share the limelight with horses, bulls, calves, and steers. For cowboys to compete at the highest level, the rodeo livestock must be in peak condition. Both are athletes in their own right. The very nature of rodeo requires a working relationship between the cowboys and animal athletes.
Rodeo organizers and contestants value their animals, as do the stock contractors who provide livestock for rodeos. Like most people, rodeo members believe animals should be provided proper care and handling. This website is dedicated to the many livestock athletes of the sport of rodeo.
Three of rodeo’s most physically challenging events, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding and bull riding, rely on horses and bulls that can kick high and buck powerfully. While critics of these events have said some of the equipment, the flank strap, prod and spurs, compel the animals to buck, veterinarians and others familiar with the behavior of large animals know otherwise.
“These are not animals who are forced to buck and perform in the arena,” said Dr. Eddie Taylor, the attending veterinarian for La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, a PRCA rodeo in Tucson, Ariz. “In fact, if a flank strap is drawn so tight as to be uncomfortable, the horses and bulls will likely cease to buck or not perform to the best of their ability. The best rodeo livestock are those with a natural inclination to buck for the purpose of unseating a rider.” Bucking horses are not wild, but they aren’t saddle-broken either. According to veterinarians, horses buck naturally some much harder than others. The horse’s bone structure and well-muscled hindquarters enable it to buck and kick high.
PRCA stock contractors, who spend a lot of time, effort and money breeding and purchasing top bucking animals and they know better than anyone that only a small percentage of animals have the desire to buck. Today, a number of breeding programs are in place specifically to breed bucking animals. “It’s part of them,” said Ike Sankey of Sankey Rodeos in Joliet, Mont. “Their mother bucked; their daddy bucked. They like people, but they like to buck. The horses and bulls enjoy what they’re doing, but if you hurt them, they won’t do it anymore.” Rodeo contestants and stock contractors, who have a substantial investment in the animals, share a similar philosophy, which includes a sincere regard for the talent of the animals and the need for quality and humane care for them. Most bulls weigh more than 1,500 pounds, compared with the 150 pounds of the average bull rider. And bulls have a hide that is up to seven times thicker than human skin.
Rodeo’s three roping events tie-down roping, team roping and steer roping have origins in everyday ranch life, where roping skills are still used everyday on ranches to doctor cattle on the range. Economics dictate that livestock owners ensure the health and welfare of their cattle. This applies not only to timed-event stock in the roping and steer wrestling events, but also to cattle on ranches that are handled with similar methods for sorting and branding.
In competition, the roping events showcase the talents of both the contestant and his horse. To successfully compete in any of the three, the contestant needs not only well-honed roping skills, but also a welltrained and intuitive horse. Roping in the competition arena closely resembles what the animals would undergo routinely on a ranch.
“I personally have not seen a serious neck injury to a tie-down roping calf in my 16 years as attending veterinarian at Tucson’s La Fiesta de Los Vaqueros and other Arizona rodeos,” said Dr. Taylor.
PRCA rules, stock contractors, judges and the cowboys all play integral parts in ensuring that roping stock are properly handled. In tie-down roping, a calf must weigh between 220 and 280 pounds. PRCA rules also stipulate the calf must be strong and healthy, and PRCA judges inspect the animals to ensure that no sick or injured livestock is used. Most calves don’t compete more than a few dozen times in their lives because of weight and usage restrictions and the fact that calves grow so rapidly.
Steers are used in the remaining two roping events. The tough and robust Mexican Corrientes are the livestock of choice for team roping and steer roping because of their endurance and strength. The steers used in team roping have a 650-pound limit.
PRCA rules stipulate that the horns on the steers used in team roping and steer roping must be protected during performances. Also, steer-roping cattle must be inspected two weeks before an event to make sure they’re fit.
Steer wrestling is an event involving a Corriente steer weighing at least 450 pounds and a man who most likely weighs less than half that amount.
“It’s highly improbable that a man could injure a steer during the steer wrestling event,” said Dr. Doug Corey, a large animal veterinarian from Pendleton, Oregon.
A cowboy who hopes to win at steer wrestling must employ finesse. Steer wrestling involves careful positioning and leverage to enable the animal to be placed on its side.