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Rodeo 101

There are two types of competition in Professional Rodeo – Roughstock and Timed Events. Roughstock events consist of Bareback, Saddle Bronc and Bull Riding. Timed Events consist of Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, Tie Down Roping, Steer Roping and Barrel Racing.

In roughstock, a contestant must stay on the animal for eight seconds while using one hand to make a qualified ride and his score is determined not only by his performance but that of the animals as well. Judges score the ride and the contestant will be awarded points between 0 to 25 as well as the animal’s effort will be awarded points between 0 to 25 points. Their score is then combined which gives the contestant their score. If the cowboy touches any part of the animal or himself with his free hand, he is disqualified.

In timed events, contestants compete against the clock. Their goal is to post the fastest time in their event. In steer wrestling and roping events, calves and steers are allowed a head start. The contestant is on horseback and starts in a three-sided fenced area called a box. A rope barrier is stretched across the opened area of the box and is tied to the calf or steer with a break-away loop. Once the calf or steer reaches the head start point the barrier is automatically released. If a cowboy breaks that barrier before the calf reaches the head start point a 10-second penalty is added to their time.

Event Descriptions

Bareback: A bareback rider uses a rigging made of leather resembling a suitcase handle on a strap. It is placed atop the horse’s withers and secured with a cinch. As the horse comes out of the chute, the rider must have both spurs touching the horse’s shoulders until the horse’s front feet hit the ground after the initial jump out of the chute. This is called “marking out”. The rider will be disqualified if he fails to do so.

Saddle Bronc: A saddle bronc rider uses a thick rein attached to his horse’s halter. As in bareback, the contestant uses one hand and tries to stay securely seated in his saddle for 8-seconds. The contestant strives to keep his toes turned outward while he spurs from the horse’s shoulders to the back of the saddle. He must maintain this during the 8-seconds to score well.

Bull Riding: With one hand; a bull rider grasps a flat braided rope which is wrapped around the bull’s chest; just behind the front legs and over its withers. One end of the bull rope (tail) is threaded through a loop on the other end and tightened around the bull. To secure his grip he then wraps the tail around his hand – sometimes weaving it through his fingers to further secure his grip. In bullriding a contestant is not required to “mark out”. While spurring can add to their score, riders are judged solely on their ability to stay on the bull.

Tie Down Roping: Precise teamwork between the tie down roper and his horse plays a big part in the success the roper has receiving the fastest time. The contestant starts from the box with the calf in the chute adjacent to the box. The calf receives a head start and once the calf reaches its advantage start, the barrier is released across the open end of the box. The horse is trained to come to a stop as soon as the cowboy throws his loop and catches the calf. He then dismounts, sprints to the calf and throws it by hand (called flanking). If the calf is not standing when he reaches it, he must allow the calf to get back on its feet. After the calf is flanked, he ties any three legs together with a pigging string. The horse in the mean time, must pull back hard enough to eliminate any slack in the rope, but not so hard that it drags the calf. Once the calf is tied, the roper throws his hands up in the air to signal completion. He then remounts his horse, creates slack in the rope and waits six seconds to see if the calf remains tied. If the calf kicks free, a no-time is recieved.

Steer Wrestling: The steer wrestler, also called “bulldogger” has to use strength and technique to wrestle a steer to the ground as quickly as possible. Simple enough, except the steer generally weighs twice as much as the cowboy and at the time they come together they each are traveling roughly 30 miles an hour. As in tie-down and team roping, the cowboy starts out in a box with a breakaway rope barrier attached to the steer and stretched across the open end of the box. The barrier will be released when the steer reaches its head start. The steer wrestler uses a “hazer” to catch his steer. The hazer gallops his horse along the right side of the steer to keep it from veering away from the steer wrestler. When the cowboy reaches his steer, he slides down and off the right side of his horse, hooks his right arm around the steer’s right horn, grasp the left horn with his left hand and using strength and leverage slows the animal down and wrestle’s him to the ground. He must get the steer on its side with all four feet pointing the same direction for his ride to be complete.

Team Roping: Team Roping consist of two skilled ropers – a header and a heeler – and their horses. Team Ropers must perfect their timing – not only between themselves but their horses. Team ropers each start in a box with a chute between which the steer enters the arena from. As in the other roping events the steer receives a head start with the barrier attached across the open end of the header box. When the barrier is released, the header takes off with the heeler trailing slightly behind. The header ropes first and must make one of three legal catches on the steer, around both horns, around one horn and the head or around the neck. Any other catch is considered illegal and the team is disqualified. After the header makes his catch he turns the steer to the left to expose the hind legs to the heeler. The heeler attempts to rope both hind legs. If he only catches one foot the team is assessed a 5-second penalty. After they catch their steer the clock is stopped when there is no slack in their ropes and their horses face each other.

Barrel Racing: In barrel racing the purpose is to make a run as fast as possible. Three barrels are set up at different marked locations (one at the far end of the arena and two on each side, directly across from each other). The barrel racer’s then enter the arena at full speed, quickly rounding each barrel in a cloverleaf pattern and then exiting the way they entered. When competing, the barrel racer’s steer their horses as close as they can to the barrels to try and shave seconds off the clock. Should they knock a barrel in their attempt to clear it, for each barrel they knock down they receive a 5 second penalty that is added to their total time.Their time is either measured by an electric eye, a device using a laser system to record times, or by a judge who drops a flag to let the timer know when to stop the time. The time begins when the barrel racer and their horse cross the start line and ends when the barrel pattern has been successfully executed and they cross the finish line.

Rodeo Terminology

Average: Describes the aggregate score for a contestant that competed in more than one round

Barrier: in timed events, a line at the front of the box that the contestant and his horse cannot cross until the steer or calf has a head start, usually marked with a rope and a flag so the timers can see it drop and start the clock

Box: in a timed event, the area a horse and rider back into before they make a roping or steer wrestling run

Breaking the barrier: in the timed events, if the rider leaves the box too soon – failing to give the animal enough of a head start – he is assessed a 10-second penalty

Bronc rein: a saddle bronc rider holds onto a bronc rein at a specific position that he determines based on the size and bucking habits of the horse he’s about to ride

Bulldogger: a steer wrestler

Calf roper: a tie-down roper

Crossfire penalty: in team roping, if the header doesn’t change the direction of the steer before the heeler catches, the run is disqualified

Dally: in team roping, each roper, after throwing his loop, wraps the loose rope around his saddle horn – dallies – and the two ropers move their horses to face each other, pulling the ropes taut to stop the clock

Draw: each roughstock competitor who enters a rodeo is assigned a specific bucking horse or bull in a random draw; each timed-event contestant is assigned a calf or steer in a random draw on site

Drop: in roughstock events, the way a bucking horse or bull may lower its front end suddenly while kicking out in back, creating a more difficult ride; in timed events, the way a calf or steer may lower its head to avoid a catch

Flank strap: A soft sheepskin- or Neoprene-lined strap placed in the area where a human’s belt would go, it encourages the animal to kick out behind itself rather than rear up, which provides a safer, showier ride

Go-round: Many rodeos have more than one round of competition; each is called a go-round, and all cowboys entered in that rodeo compete in each go-round unless there is a semi-final, final or progressive round

Hazer: in steer wrestling, the cowboy who rides on the right side of the steer from the contestant to make sure the steer runs straight

Header/heeler: the two partners in team roping – the header throws the first rope, over the animal’s head or horns, and the heeler throws the second rope to catch both the steer’s hind legs; roping one leg results in a five-second penalty

Hooey: the knot that a cowboy uses to finish tying the calf’s legs together in tie-down roping

Hung up: when a bull rider or bareback rider cannot remove his hand from the rope or handle before he dismounts or is thrown off the bull’s or horse’s back,

Left (or right) delivery: many bucking animals prefer to stand in the chute facing a particular direction, so they can leave the chute in the direction they prefer

Mark out: in the bareback and saddle bronc riding, a cowboy’s feet must be above the point of the horse’s shoulders when the horse’s front feet hit the ground – if so, he “marked the horse out,” but if not, he “missed him out” and the ride is disqualified

Piggin’ string: the small rope used to tie a calf or steer’s legs together

Pigtail: a piece of string attached to the barrier that breaks if a timed-event contestant’s horse exits the box too soon, not giving the calf or steer enough of a head start according to PRCA rules

Rank: an adjective of praise and respect used to describe especially challenging roughstock

Reride: if a cowboy’s score is affected by equipment failure or a horse or bull that doesn’t buck to performance specifications, the judges may offer the cowboy a clean-slate chance on a different horse or bull

Riggin’: a suitcase-style handhold customized to a rider’s grip and attached to a molded piece of leather that is cinched, with a pad, around the horse’s girth

Slack: excess entries at some rodeos may be scheduled for preliminary (slack) competition, usually before the rodeo opens to the public

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