Grand Entry is the exciting opening to each and every RodeoHouston performance. When the gate opens and Show officials appear on horseback, the performance has officially begun. The winding trail of horses, buggies, carriages, hay wagons and fire trucks, brings a colorful exhibition of Show officials, dignitaries, sponsors, volunteers and special guests to RodeoHouston fans nightly.
With pride, the audience stands for a stunning performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” as a professional trick rider carries the American flag atop her horse for everyone to see around the arena. NRG Stadium fills with patriotic spirit as fireworks burst in the arena, signaling the start of the RODEOHOUSTON performance.
Authentic ranch hand practices often inspire rodeo sports such as tie-down roping, which derived from the practical method cowboys use to gather cattle for medical treatments or branding.
While the objective of tie-down roping as a sport is different than on the range, the dynamics required for success are the same — an experienced cowboy with precise roping skills and a solid partnership between horse and rider.
The hot pursuit does not begin until the calf reaches its head start and triggers a trip lever releasing the barrier in front of the roper's chute. In seconds, the roper and horse will go from standstill to full-tilt gallop, racing after the calf and against the clock. Once in position, the rider ropes the calf before he quickly dismounts and runs to it. Meanwhile, the horse is trained to continually move backward to maintain tension on the rope. With strength and adrenaline, the cowboy then lifts the calf and lays the animal on its side in the dirt before roping any three of the calf’s legs.
The clock only stops when the cowboy throws both hands in the air, signaling completion of the chase. The cowboy then remounts his horse and rides forward to release tension from the rope. For an official time to be recorded, the calf must remain tied for six seconds. A 10 second penalty is added to that time if the cowboy and his horse break the barrier too soon, which can be costly in an event based on time, where contestants are often separated by mere fractions of a second.
The full measure of a man is tried in bareback riding, as muscles are pulled, joints are pounded and strength is tested in the eight-second ride. The cowboy must rely on his strength and technique, without assistance from any equipment to conquer this rough stock event.
Ready to ride, the cowboy lifts one hand in the air while the other hand desperately holds on to the rigging, a leather hand-hold tie placed around the horse behind its front legs. Once out of the chute, the rider must keep his feet above the horse’s shoulder before its front hooves hit the arena dirt on the first jump. This is called “marking out.” The rider will be deducted a point if he fails to “mark out” or if his free hand touches the horse, himself or the rigging at any time during the ride.
Throughout the ride, the cowboy should continually spur in rhythm with the horse’s bucking to maintain stability and execute proper form. The spurring motion requires the rider to quickly move his heels above and below the horse's shoulders. As soon as the horse jumps, the rider pulls his knees to move his spurs behind the horse’s shoulders. As the horse’s hind legs fully extend, the rider mimics the horse and straightens his legs past the animal's shoulders before the next pounding kick.
Judges consider both the rider and the horse in the score, looking at the horse's bucking action and the cowboy's spurring technique. The judges also look for the rider's willingness to lean far back on the horse and adjust to its wild action.
Partnership means success in this timed-sport. In team roping, two cowboys must work together and trust each other to rope a runaway steer and a championship title.
Two riders on horseback are positioned on either side of the steer’s chute in preparation for the wild chase. After the steer gains a head start, the first roper, known as the header, must rope the steer in one of three ways: around both horns, around one horn and the head, or around the neck. If the header ropes the steer in any other fashion, then the team is disqualified.
After the header ropes the steer and quickly dallies his lasso (ties it around the saddle horn), he must quickly turn the steer to the left to set up his partner, the heeler. The heeler’s task is to lasso both of the steer’s hind legs while being careful not to catch the front legs. Time is called when both horses turn to face each other with no slack in the ropes holding the steer.
The riders are penalized 10 seconds if the header leaves the chute too soon and five seconds if the heeler only ropes one hind leg.
Rodeo’s classic event, saddle bronc riding, evolved from the Old West when gritty cowboys fought to tame nature by breaking and training wild horses for their cattle ranches. Many cowboys say that this is the most challenging rodeo event to master because of the rigorous technical requirements.
A rider can easily receive a point deduction for simply missing his “mark out,” which requires both heels to touch the horse’s shoulders on the first jump out of the chute. The rider also can be disqualified if he touches any part of the horse or his body with his free hand at any time during his ride.
For eight seconds, the dirt arena becomes a dance floor as the rider uses strength and agility to spur in rhythm with the horse's bucking motion. As soon as the chutes open, the rider's hand tightens around the soft woven rein attached to the horse's halter, and the dance begins. The cowboy’s legs snap forward over the horse’s shoulder before the animal’s front feet strike the ground, and then the cowboy kicks his legs back in a sweeping motion, creating a rhythmic stride called spurring. When the rider spurs correctly, saddle bronc riding changes from a rough stock sport to a harmonized performance.
To garner the best score, a cowboy must keep his toes turned outward, spur consistently from shoulder to saddle, and maintain balance and control of the horse. The horse's bucking action also is judged and calculated into the overall score.
In steer wrestling, a cowboy uses only his strength and skills to tackle a runaway steer at least twice his size and weight. This event is known for speed, ability and precise timing. Steer wrestling is the fastest rodeo event, with a world record of 2.4 seconds.
In the early 1900s, the legendary rodeo star and Wild West show performer, Bill Picket, created steer wrestling for entertainment value. Also known as “bulldogging,” steer wrestling was inspired by the real-life ranch practice of using trained bulldogs to help catch stray cattle. Steer wrestlers are commonly referred to as bulldoggers.
The steer wrestler starts behind the barrier on one side of the steer, which is waiting to run in the chute, while a second cowboy on horseback, called a hazer, waits on the opposite side. The hazer acts like a barrier preventing the steer from veering away from the bulldogger after it leaves the chute. Once the steer is given a head start, the bulldogger and hazer take off blocking either side of the 500-pound animal. The bulldogger slides off his horse, wraps his arms around the steer’s horns and digs his heels into the dirt. Once the cowboy brings the steer to a halt, he uses his whole body and strength to flip the steer on its side with all four legs pointing in the same direction. If the cowboy breaks the barrier too soon, he receives a 10 second penalty.
This all-women’s rodeo event is a display of fine horsemanship as the rider and horse maneuver through a course racing against the clock. Timing is truly everything in barrel racing as a contestant’s run is measured in hundredths of a second.
Entering the arena at full speed, the horse and rider race to complete a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in a triangle formation before exiting through the entrance. Precision and partnership are vital in barrel racing. Dirt flies as the horse and rider try to “hug the barrels” as close as possible to remove seconds from their time. Riding at top speed, the rider must be accurate or else they risk knocking over a barrel and adding a penalty of five precious seconds to their total time. In an event where every second counts, there is no room for error.
A bull rider must be made tougher than most men, as bull riding is often considered the most dangerous sport in rodeo. While most rodeo events evolved from ranch hand practices, bull riding started from the fearless, wild character of cowboys brave enough to ride nature’s horned beast.
The fate of the ride is in the cowboy’s own hand as he grips on to the bull rope through the roughest ride of his life. A bull rope is a flat-braided rope with a single hand-hold wrapped around the bull’s chest and held fast by the cowboy’s riding hand. A weighted metal bell attached in the middle of the rope hangs underneath the bull and falls free from the animal when the rider lets go. A bull rider can be disqualified for touching the bull or himself with his free hand during the ride.
A bull rider’s dream is an eight second ride, however, time isn’t the only factor in the score. As in all rough stock events, the bull’s bucking efforts account for half of the rider’s points. Each bull is unpredictable, dangerous and specific in its own bucking fashion. Some bulls spin continuously in a circle, or jerk side to side, and even jump in the air relentlessly kicking. A bull the rider desires the most provides the perfect storm — an animal fierce enough to carry him to victory without dismounting him before the eight second buzzer.
With the speed of lightening, the horses take off and the chuck wagons soar around NRG Stadium in one of the most exciting events for RODEOHOUSTON fans.
Before the chuck wagon races became a Rodeo special event, these canvas-topped wagons were a home away from home for cowboys on the range. Serving as everything from a kitchen to a locker room, from a post office to a social club, the chuck wagon has strong ties to Western heritage. Each night on the range, everyone would gather around the wagon — it was the heart of any trail ride.
When the long days on the range became monotonous and predictable, thrill-seeking cowboys entertained themselves by racing their chuck wagons to their next location. Often, the last wagon to arrive in town was the first to pay for a round at the saloon.
Racing up to 30 miles per hour, the chuck wagon races held today are unlike any race during the Old West. Pulled by a specially bred team of horses, these lightweight chuck wagons carry only the driver and perform in ways the original wagons never could. Unwritten rules in this race require the lead driver to move his team to the outer circle of the arena to allow the other teams access to the inside lane to catch up.
The sharp turns on two wheels and close encounters have RODEOHOUSTON fans on the edge of their seats, eagerly watching to see if their predicted chuck wagon crosses the finish line first.
One of the wildest, most spirited and extremely heartwarming events at RODEOHOUSTON® is the calf scramble. With the drop of a cowboy hat, 15 calves are released into the arena for 30 youngsters to chase and attempt to catch, holding only a rope halter. With Texas 4-H and FFA members and calves darting in every direction across the NRG Stadium floor, the calf scramble becomes one of the most chaotic, unscripted and beloved events of the Rodeo.
Each student who catches a calf is awarded a $1,500 certificate to purchase a registered beef heifer or market steer to show at the Houston Livestock Show™ the following year. Returning as an exhibitor, the student shows in a special competition and receives a $250 bonus if program requirements are fulfilled. This event is a true depiction of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™, which supports the youth in Texas and encourages agriculture enterprise. More than $10.3 million has been awarded in certificates and awards to approximately 20,240 students since 1942.
Everyone in the audience smiles as the youngest rodeo contestants, dressed in their best Western attire, participate in the beloved mutton bustin’ event. Before the concert, a group of determined 5 and 6 year olds spring out of the chute clinging onto a sheep, or mutton, for a thrilling and unforgettable ride. While all contestants are winners in mutton bustin’, the rider who holds on the longest receives a champion belt buckle and a resounding round of applause from the crowd.
All mutton bustin' participants must be between the ages of five and six years old and not weigh more than 60 pounds. Participants will attempt to ride a "mutton" or sheep the longest.