Rodeo 101: Become A Rodeo Expert

rodeo expert

Rodeo 101: Become A Rodeo Expert

An all-inclusive guide to rodeo 101: becoming a rodeo expert and everything you need to get started in rodeo events.

The road to become a rodeo expert can be a long one, but this guide is a quick start, leg-up in your journey! Learn all about Rodeo 101 with Rafter 3 Horse Development. We specialize in Western horsemanship training, specifically barrel racing. Stay tuned for all of our updates.

Hello and welcome back everyone, today we are going to be talking about one of the GREATEST most ALL-AMERICAN events there is, Rodeo! The esteemed American tradition has excited spectators, families, and competitors alike since the beginning of the event… You guessed it! Rodeo.

If you want to learn rodeo 101 and become a rodeo expert then you are reading the right article! Read on to learn all about the rodeo and some helpful insider tips and tricks.

Rodeo 101: Events you should know about to become a rodeo expert


The Basics Of: Bareback riding-rodeo 101 

Rodeo 101: Becoming a rodeo expert. Bareback riding is one of the most “rough on your body” sports in the world of rodeo. Are you interested in bareback riding?

If you want to become a rodeo expert, then you sure need to know all about bareback bronc riding. One of the roughest, toughest events in the Pro-Rodeo scene.

These riders tend to endure more injury and potential long-term issues than most all other cowboys. Both saddle bronc riding AND bareback riding share a lot of similarities, as they both began out of the mandatory task of breaking and training horses.

In bareback bronc riding, they use what is called “rigging” which is a piece of leather that is similar to a girth, but has a handle on the top portion. These riggings are made to meet the standards set and held by the PRCA for safety.

“Bareback riding has been compared to riding a jackhammer with one hand. Jason Jeter can probably attest to that definition. As the bronc and rider burst from the chute, the rider must have both spurs touching the horse’s shoulders until the horse’s feet hit the ground after the initial move from the chute. This is called “marking out.” If the cowboy fails to do this, he is disqualified.”

During the ride, the bronc will buck and as this happens, the cowboy will pull his knees upward and will roll his spurs up the horses shoulder. Once the horse starts to land from it’s buck, the cowboy will then straighten his legs back out and bring his legs (and spurs) back to the original position.

RODEO ALL-STAR gives some great advice on roughstock events and rules, check it out HERE.

In order to make a qualified ride and earn the “money scores” this event takes a lot more than gumption and strength. In the bareback event, you are judged on your spurring technique, which may also be referred to as “marking out.” which is mandatory for in the beginning of your go.

Further learning: Did you know? If you are serious about getting into bareback bronc riding, there are many schools and events that you can attend to hone in your skills and speak with a pro!

 Steer wrestling- rodeo 101

Steer wrestling is a high-speed, high-power, high-strength rodeo sport that has captivated audiences and competitors all over. The current standing world record (according to for steer wrestling is an extreme 2.4 SECONDS!

Because of this it is actually the fastest timed event in rodeo.

If you want to become a rodeo expert, then you need to know about steer wrestling. Here are a few key points to understand:

  • The steer wrestler is called a “bulldogger.” These bulldoggers use various techniques along with unmatched strength in order to wrestle the steer. The goal is to get the steer to the ground as fast as they possibly can.
  • The steer can weigh more than TWICE what the bulldogger weighs.
  • When the bulldogger and the steer meet, they can be traveling upwards of 25 miles per hour.

“Speed and precision, the two most important ingredients in steer wrestling, make bulldogging one of rodeo’s most challenging events.”

In the beginning of the event, the bulldogger will start on their horse in the box. This is similar to what tie-down ropers do. The steer wrestler will have a breakaway rope barrier on the box. This rope provides the steer with a head start. Once the steer reaches what is called the “advantage point” then the breakaway rope barrier will be released, allowing the horse and bulldogger to chase off after the steer. There is a 10-second penalty is the rope barrier is broken before the steer reaches its advantage.

Rodeo 101: Becoming an expert TIP: Do you know the aspects of what makes a perfect steer wrestling go?




Critical judgement skills


The bulldogger, when they get to the point where they consider dismounting their full-out running horse, will slip down the right side of the horse and will use their right arm to wrap it around the steer’s right horn. After that the bulldogger will grab the left horn with their left hand. Then the wrestling begins! Once the steer is on the ground, they must be on their side with all four of their feet pointing in the same direction.

Another important thing that the bulldogger relies on is someone known as a “hazer.” A hazer is an additional cowboy and horse team that runs on the right hand side of the steer in order to keep the steer from running off course.




Rodeo 101: Become and expert: All About The Art Of Tie-down roping

Horsemanship 101: Tie Down Roping & Training Manual Bundle by [Augustus M Walton]

“The history of roping and ranching dates back to the 1500s or earlier when the very first Vaqueros came over to Florida and Texas. This first group that came only was here to explore and then they later brought animals with them in the 1600s. The local natives did not take too kindly to the Roman Catholic ideology and ended up chasing them back into their home country and down into Mexico.  

Shortly after that, these cows and horses that they brought over rapidly started increasing in numbers. The earliest cow pokes in the area truly had to work hard and long days to provide for themselves and their families. They would chase down these wild cows and horses, rope them, and add them into their herds. This is where the foundations of tie-down roping began. As a useful skill on the ranch to ensure the safety of the rancher’s animals. If a calf needed to be doctored quickly, they were able to do that with their well-trained horses and impressive roping abilities.

Calf or tie-down roping received its name due to the fact that you are roping, tying, and doctoring calves and not full-grown bovine.”- Tie Down Roping by Augustus M. Walton

If you want to read MORE of our book, it is available on 

In tie-down roping the cowboy will start on their horse in a three-side “box” that is Today, the mounted cowboy starts from a box, a three-sided fenced area adjacent to the chute holding that is next to, or sometimes even connected to the chute where the calf is waiting and ready.

“The calf receives a head start that is determined by the length of the arena. One end of a breakaway rope barrier is looped around the calf’s neck and stretched across the open end of the box. When the calf reaches its advantage point, the barrier is released. If the roper breaks the barrier before the calf reaches its head start, the cowboy is assessed a 10-second penalty.”

The cowboy/ cowgirl trains his or her horse to come to a complete stop as soon as they toss their rope and catch the calf. After this the rider will dismount the horse and run up to the calf. Once the rider gets up to the calf the next part is “throwing” the calf. This is where the cowboy or cowgirl will perform a flanking on the calf, and by hand throw it to the ground. Once the flanking is done, three of the calf’s legs will be tied together with a string called a “pigging string.” These pigging strings are generally made of leather and are a short, looped rope that the rider will carry during the run with their teeth!

One of the most phenomenal parts of tie-down roping truly has to be how well-trained these horses are. During the process of flanking and tying up the calf, the horse has to hold a constant pressure on the rope, and even pull back in order to remove any slack out of the rope. But, the horse needs to be sensitive enough to know not to pull to hard or drag the calf backward.

In true rodeo style, the roper will finish the event by tossing their hands in the air to complete their run.

After this, the roper remounts the horse and walks forward to cause slack in the rope. If the calf remains tied for six seconds. IF THE CALF KICKS FREE THE ROPER RECEIVES NO TIME!


Strategic Saddle bronc riding

“Saddle bronc riding is rodeos classic event. Saddle bronc riding evolved from the task of breaking and training horses to work the cattle ranches of the Old West. Many cowboys claim riding saddle broncs is the toughest rodeo event to master because of the technical skills necessary for success.”-Benton Rodeo

Many a cowboy will tell you that they truly believe that saddle bronc riding is one of the toughest rodeo events to master because it requires a lot of technical skill and riding mastery. Also, having an understanding of anatomy and physiology to better predict the horses movements and patterns will set you a part from the rest. If you want to become a rodeo expert, learning about strategic saddle bronc riding will be very important.

Protip: The saddle bronc rider must actually synchronize their movement and control their body to go along with the movement of the horse. The more fluid the ride, the better. 

One of the most important rules in saddle bronc riding is that the rider must mark out their horse when they take their first jump out of the chute.


Rodeo 101- how is saddle bronc riding scored?

The rider of a saddle bronc horse only has a simple, thick rein to hold onto. This rein is attached to the horse’s halter. The cowboy only has one hand to hold on with, and if his free hand touches any part of either the horse or his/ her own body, they are disqualified.

The judges score:

Bucking action

The rider’s control

Spurring action

Toe positioning

Marking out

Meeting the eight second minimum


Rodeo 101: Become an expert on saddle bronc riding, check out the video below!




Team roping

“Similar to tie-down ropers and steer wrestlers, team ropers start from the boxes on each side of the chute from which the steer enters the arena. The steer gets a head start determined by the length of the arena. One end of a breakaway barrier is attached to the steer and stretched across the open end of the header’s box. When the steer reaches his advantage point, the barrier is released, and the header takes off in pursuit, with the heeler trailing slightly further behind. The ropers are assessed a 10-second penalty if the header breaks the barrier before the steer completes his head start. Some rodeos use heeler barriers too.”

The header

The header is the person who ropes first. They are required to make one of three catches on the steer that are legal. These catches are:

  • Both horns
  • Around a single horn
  • Around either the head or neck

After a legal catch the header will attempt to turn the steer towards the left-hand side in order for his or her heeler to be able to rope the hind legs.

The heeler

The heeler is the second part of the team who ropes the steer’s hind legs. Ideally, you want to rope both hind feet as a heeler to avoid a penalty.

After the heeler ropes the steer and slack is removed from the rope, the clock is then stopped.

Scoring system and disqualifications

  • Headers who catch the steer by any other than the three legal catches will cause the team to get disqualified.
  • Heelers who rope one hind foot will receive a 5-second penalty.

Become a rodeo expert by learning how to rope rope properly!


Barrel racing

“The sport of barrel racing is traditionally considered a women’s-only rodeo event. The horse and rider team runs a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels that are measured out to a specific distance. The winner is decided based on who has the quickest time. In current barrel racing anyone can race, but in collegiate and most professional divisions it is still a women’s only sport. 

Rafter 3 Horse Development specializes in rodeo 101 and how to become a rodeo expert! Check out all of our great barrel racing resources below this section.

In order to be a successful team, the horse and rider need to have a harmonious and deep-rooted partnership based upon the rider’s horsemanship abilities, along with the horse’s athleticism. The horse and rider team needs to be able to maneuver around the three barrels at explosive speeds. 

Riding in a barrel racing event is extremely intense, fun, and exhilarating. The winner is actually determined by a thousandth of a second, it is similar to splitting a hair four ways. Speed is what ultimately matters instead of skill, but skill plays a massive part in how well you perform, and the speed you have. So do other important aspects like training, conditioning, feed and supplementation, and even equine biomechanics. Every one of these aspects of this sport will be a key factor in making it or breaking it as a barrel racer. 

With many areas being undermined or overlooked, it’s easy to have pitfalls in your training program and in the understanding of the barrel racing event itself. Barrel racing is an extremely rewarding sport and you can even make a living doing it if you are successful. Let’s map out the road to success.” Augustus M. Walton- Barrel Racing Training Books

When you are running your barrels, the winner is determined by the fastest time. Your riding skills, horse’s conditioning, and so much more go into how well you will perform along with your training techniques.

The barrel racing pattern:

This graphic is from our barrel racing training article Barrel racing axis points. Want to learn more? Read the full article HERE.

In barrel racing, there are three barrels placed in a triangular shape (as seen on the left.)  If a barrel racing competitor knocks a barrel down, there will be a 5-second penalty added to their final time. No time will be added if the horse or rider touches the barrel and it does NOT fall.  If the rider happens to run a time over a minute, or they deviate from the cloverleaf pattern, no score is generally given. 

Did you know? The average time for a barrel racing run is generally 15-30 seconds?

“Barrel racing can be set up in many different formats, but usually it is in a 4D format. Meaning, the first division is the fastest time, the second division is the fastest time plus half a second, the third division is the fastest time plus one second, and the fourth division is the fastest time plus two seconds. Barrel racing is a very popular sport, and one of the top three most popular rodeo events (Casey, 2017). Barrel racing can be watched at rodeos, on television, and at national barrel racing events.”-Iowa State University Extension Center

Further learning about barrel racing:


Bull riding

Rodeo 101: Become a rodeo expert, bull riding.

One of the most wonderful parts of rodeo is that all of the competition we see and love today stems back to the time period of the wild west, where all of these events we see were daily staples in their routines. Even today, most of the competitors are ranchers who use these same events in their daily lives!

“Bull riding, which is intentionally climbing on the back of a 2,000-pound bull, emerged from the fearless and possibly fool-hardy nature of the cowboy. The risks are obvious. Serious injury is always a possibility for those fearless enough to sit astride an animal that literally weighs a ton and is usually equipped with dangerous horns. Regardless, cowboys do it, fans love it and bull riding ranks as one of rodeo’s most popular events.”

Bull riding, if you want to get into it, is notoriously dangerous. Bulls are unpredictable and can be very ill tempered. This event requires courage, strength, fearlessness, agility, and wit. The cowboy will ride the bull similarly to a bareback bronc or saddle bronc, where they will use one hand to hang on and the other must not touch their body or the bull.

Protip: Most roughstock competitions require you to mark out your animal, but this is not the case with bull riding. This is NOT to say that spurring action isn’t judged, but they are primarily judged based on their ability to stay on the bull as it twists, bucks, turns, and squirms violently.




How do you prepare for your first Rodeo

In this section we are going to discuss a little about preparing for your first rodeo and all of the different things you should be aware of when you are first getting started in rodeo events and learning how to become a rodeo expert.

Remember, everything new that you ever do is going to have a learning curve. Be patient, don’t get overwhelmed or frustrated, and just use good critical thinking skills and everything will work out just dandy!

Becoming a rodeo expert does not happen overnight. Do your due diligence and make sure you educate yourself and broaden your horizon by going to rodeos and speaking with people who compete in the events you compete in! 

Our head trainer here at Rafter 3 Horse Development for all things Rodeo related, Makala Nerio, went to the Pecos Rodeo this summer and she told me that EVERYONE there was so kind and was happy to speak with her. Don’t be afraid to get out there and ask questions or even offer to interview these competitors like Makala did! Speaking with people in the industry is a great way to become a rodeo expert, because you will be getting your information from people immersed in the sport and are passionate about what they do.

I asked Makala to give me a quick-start guide to rodeo 101: becoming a rodeo expert and how to get into the rodeo scene. Here is what she had to say!

  • Start small. Enter local competitions and familiarize yourself with your event, the rules and regulations, and work hard to start winning small/ local rodeos. 
  • Depending on the event, to enter the professional realm of rodeo, you need to enter a certain amount of competitions along with earning a certain amount of money to earn your “pro-card.” 
  • Practice, practice, practice… it makes perfect. 
  • Take lessons or attend clinics and events.

I found a great article from on starting out in the rodeo and what you need to know. Check it out HERE.


Famous Rodeo events

National Western Stock Show And Rodeo


Prescott Frontier Days

Pendleton Round Up

National Finals Rodeo

Cheyenne Frontier Days

The Calgary Stampede

The Houston Livestock Show And Rodeo

The Reno Rodeo


Final thoughts on Rodeo 101: Becoming a Rodeo Expert

Well! That was a long article, but I sure hope it was helpful on your journey to learning all about rodeo 101 and how to become a rodeo expert! The rodeo is an exciting and thrilling place, and even more fun if you understand the events, rules and regulations, and what goes into each part of the rodeo. If you compete already in rodeo events then this article can give you some additional resources and study material to look into! Stay tuned for our next article and updates on the plethora of books we have coming out VERY SOON under our new amazon publishing profile, RAFTER 3 HORSE DEVELOPMENT!

Want to learn more about farriery and your horses hooves? Check out our brand new book!

Available on Amazon


Bible verse of the day

Isaiah 54:10 10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

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One response to “Rodeo 101: Become A Rodeo Expert”

  1. […] do I learn more about roping, riding, and rodeo? Check out our article Rodeo 101: Become A Rodeo Expert, it covers all of the basics of […]

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