Ride a Bull at the Calgary Stampede

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Saturday, October 30, 2010

Held every July in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the Calgary Stampede is a ten-day event, which bills itself as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, attracting over one million visitors and featuring the world's largest rodeo, a parade, midway, stage shows, concerts, agricultural competitions, chuckwagon racing and First Nations exhibitions. During Stampede, Calgary takes on a party atmosphere. Residents put on their cowboy hats and boots and attend events held across the city including the ever popular pancake breakfasts and barbecues. Twenty of the world's highest rated competitors qualify to compete in each of the six major events - saddlebronc, bareback, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing followed up by the crowd favorite: wagon racing.

Saddle Bronc

          Based on the necessity to break horses and make them safe to ride, the saddlebronc event has similar rules to bull riding in that the rider comes out of a chute riding the horse and attempts to hang on for 8 seconds while the horse tries to buck the rider off.  The cowboys and horses both receive a score between 0 and 50 which are combined to achieve a total score.  On the first jump out of the chute, the cowboy must "mark the horse" meaning he must have the heels of his boots in contact with the horse above the point of his shoulders before the horses front legs hit the ground.  The cowboy is disqualified if his free arm touches the horse during the 8 seconds; he also gets points for spurring. 


             Bareback, horseback riding without a saddle, is the most physically demanding rodeo event with a high injury rate. Using one arm, the cowboy must hold onto the rawhide handhold of a riggin (a leather pad cinched around the horse's girth).  The rider will be disqualified for touching the animal or equipment with his free hand, or getting bucked off before eight seconds. 

                The bareback rider strives to reach as far forward as he can with his feet rolling his spurs back up toward the riggin. At the same time, he must keep from being pulled away from the handhold. The higher and wilder the rider spurs, the higher his score.

Bull Riding

                Bull riding is the most dangerous rodeo sport and accounts for approximately 50% of all traumatic injuries to rodeo contestants not to mention injuries inflicted on the bullfighters who protect the contestants.

                It is thought that bull riding was born in 1869 in Deer Trail, Colorado when two groups of cowboys from neighboring ranches were having a "We are better cowboys than you" dispute and decided to solve it with a competition, which caught on giving birth to the rodeo.  Today cowboys from all over the world can finally figure out, once and for all, who the best cowboys are.  What a relief!

                The healthiest and strongest bulls are chosen for the competition and the cowboys are assigned to one via a random draw.  A rope with a hand-hold braided into it is wrapped around the bull with a weighted cowbell hanging underneath.  The rope is pulled snug around the bull's hind quarters and is kept tight by the cowboys grip, once the cowboy lets go the rope falls free.  Once out of the gates, the cowboy attempts to hang onto the bull for 8 seconds. This is not an easy task.  The cowboy is only allowed to hang on with one hand (his riding hand) and if he touches the bull with his other hand or gets bucked off before his 8 seconds is up he gets disqualified.  The ride is scored from 0-100 points (0-50 for the bull and 0-50 for the cowboy) usually by two judges: one for the bull and one for the cowboy. 

The judges look for control and rhythm in the rider who lose points if they are constantly off-balance.  A rider can gain extra "style points" by spurring the bull. 

                The bull is judged on his power, speed and kicks; the harder time the bull gives the rider, the higher he will score.  If the bull performs really badly the cowboy will be given the option of a re-ride. Yikes!

Tie-Down Roping

                The goal of this timed event is for the rider to catch the calf by throwing a loop of rope from a lariat around its neck, dismount from the horse, run to the calf, and restrain it by tying three legs together, in as short a time as possible  Tie-down roping is the most technical event in rodeo that requires a unique partnership with the horse and excellent hand eye coordination on the part of the cowboy.
                The calf, who is always given a head start, releases the barrier with a breakaway cord when it reaches the end of that head start. If the roper leaves the box too early, he will receive a ten second penalty.

                Once the calf is roped, the contestant stops his horse, dismounts and runs to reach the calf to flank and tie its three legs. While the roper makes the tie his horse works independently to keep the rope taught. Time is called when the roper throws his hands into the air to signal he is finished.


Steer Wrestling

            Steer wrestling, also known as bulldogging, is a rodeo event in which a horse-mounted rider chases a steer then drops from his horse to wrestle the steer to the ground by twisting its horns. Timing, coordination and strength are prerequisites for a steer wrestler. Starting behind a barrier, which is a rope stretched across the front of the starting box, the steer wrestler chases the steer after it crosses the score line giving it a head start. If the steer wrestler does not allow the steer a fair head start, a penalty of ten seconds is added to his time. The steer wrestler's horse is trained to run by as the steer wrestler reaches for the steer. The steer wrestler then grabs the steer's left horn, taking the right horn in the crook of his right elbow.        As his feet hit the ground, with his legs extended forward, he slides the steer to a halt. (The steer must be on its feet before being thrown.)  Using his left hand as leverage under the steer's jaw, the steer is rolled to the ground and must be flat on its side with all four legs extended on the same side before the official time is taken.

                This event requires an extra horse ridden by a hazer, who keeps the steer running as straight as possible. Control and speed are required from both horses as they wait for their cue to start covering about 46 meters in four seconds from a standing start.

Barrel Racing

             Barrel racing requires the horse and rider to attempt to complete a clover-leaf pattern around a set of preset barrels in the fastest time. A rider may touch or move a barrel but if she knocks it over, a five-second penalty will be added to her total time

                While both boys and girls compete at the youth level and men compete in some amateur venues, it is primarily a rodeo event for women. In fact, it is the only women's event at the Calgary Stampede.

Wagon Racing

             Wagon Racing is one of the most popular spectator events at the Stampede. Nine nightly heats of 36 drivers, 288 horses and their teams of outriders vie for over $1.15 million in prize money. While it sounds simple, just hitch a team of four high-strung thoroughbreds to a chuckwagon, stop them at a barrel, settle them as four outriders (each with their own horse ) set the tent poles and stove then wait for the starting horn, it is easier said than done. Co-operation and co-ordination must be precise and there is a thin line for error and those who cross it will not earn a spot in the $150,000 final heat on Day 10. It's those little intangibles that make it so difficult to run 10 days penalty free. When so much has to go right—to run fast, to stay in the top four—you just hope to avoid penalties.

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