Rodeo 101

Soon you will be a rodeo expert! Learn the fundamentals of each rodeo event, down to the judging and scoring, as well as the records in each event. The more you know, the more fun it is to watch the action each night during the Rodeo. The official sport of Texas is rodeo, after all!

Grand Entry

Grand Entry

Grand Entry is the exciting opening to each and every RODEOHOUSTON® performance. When the gate opens and Rodeo 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 Rodeo officials, dignitaries, sponsors, volunteers and special guests to RODEOHOUSTON® fans nightly.

National Anthem Salute

National Anthem Salute

The sound of fireworks bursting and patriotic applause signal the start of the nightly RodeoHouston® performances. As a professional trick rider stands atop her horse and carries the American flag around the arena, RodeoHouston® fans rise, remove their cowboy hats and sing the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Tie-Down Roping

Tie-Down Roping

Tie-down roping was inspired by the traditional method cowboys use to gather cattle for medical treatment or branding when chutes and working pens were not readily available. This timed event requires the horse and its rider to be in sync, working together to catch and tie-down the runaway calf, who is allowed a head start.

When the calf reaches a certain distance from the chute, it trips a lever releasing the barrier on the roping box. When the barrier is released, the roper and his horse take off in hot pursuit. In a matter of seconds, the cowboy swings the rope over his head, launching it forward around the calf’s neck. The horse then slides to a halt, allowing the roper to dismount and run toward the calf. Reaching the calf, the roper quickly flips it over and begins to tie any three of the calf’s legs. Once the calf is tied, the roper throws his hands in the air, stopping the clock.

A 10-second penalty is added if the horse and his rider break the barrier. In order for the roper’s time to be recorded, the calf must stay tied for an official three seconds, from the roper’s first step away from the tied calf. If the calf comes untied during this time, the team will receive a no-time.


Boot Barn

Bareback Riding

Bareback Riding

Perhaps the most physically demanding rodeo event, bareback riding tests the cowboy’s strength and ability to hang on without any assistance from equipment. Thus, the rider must rely only on his technique and training, in order to make it to the eight-second whistle.

A successful ride begins with the appropriate mount in the chute. The rider, lying flat on the horse’s back, must keep his front legs above the horse’s shoulders before its front hooves hit the arena dirt on the first jump. This is called “marking out.” Points will be deducted from the ride if the cowboy fails to successfully mark his horse out of the chute.

When the chute gate opens, the rider must also keep one hand on the rigging — a leather strap placed behind the horse’s front legs — with the other hand in the air. If the rider’s free hand touches himself, the rigging, or the horse, at any point during the ride, he will be disqualified.

Both the horse and the rider are judged in this event. For the duration of the ride, the cowboy should continually spur in rhythm with the horse’s bucking action. This helps the rider maintain stability and proper form. If the horse fails to buck or performs poorly, the rider may be offered a re-ride on a different horse, drawn at random.


Team Roping

Team Roping

Team roping is the only rodeo event that allows cowboys to work together in the arena. In this timed event, teamwork and trust are vital, as anything can happen when the steer is released from the chute.

The first roper, also called the header, is positioned to the left of the steer, with the second roper, or the heeler, to the right of the steer. When the header leaves the roping box, he must first rope the steer around both horns before the heeler can throw his rope around the steer’s back legs. If the header misses, the team receives a no-score.

If the header catches, he must loop or “dally” his rope around the saddle horn, turning the steer for the heeler to catch. If the heeler only catches one leg, the team will be penalized by five seconds. The team also will be penalized if the header leaves the box too soon, breaking the barrier. Time is called when both horses turn to face each other, with no slack in the ropes, holding the steer.

Mrs Bairds

Saddle Bronc Riding

Saddle Bronc Riding

Saddle bronc riding traces its roots back to the Old West when cowboys would throw saddles on wild horses to break and train them for their cattle ranches. While the rough stock event has evolved over time, saddle bronc riding is considered to be rodeo’s classic event.

From the moment the chute gate opens, cowboys must maintain control of the horse and sit snug in the saddle while holding on to a thickly-braided rein attached to the horse’s halter. The rider must also keep his free hand in the air and his feet in the stirrups while spurring in rhythm with the horse’s jumps. If the rider loses his stirrups or if his free hand touches the rein or the horse at any point during the ride, he will be disqualified.

Similar to bareback riding, if the rider fails to mark his horse out of the chute, points will be deducted from the final score. In saddle bronc riding, the heels of the rider’s front feet must remain above the horse’s shoulders until the horse completes its first jump. If the rider successfully “marks out,” maintains control and draws an athletic horse, he is sure to ride his way to victory.

Energy Transfer

Steer Wrestling

Steer Wrestling

In this speed-driven event, cowboys use their strength and body weight to tackle and flip a runaway steer weighing up to 600 pounds. Also called “bulldogging,” steer wrestling is the fastest event in rodeo, with a RODEOHOUSTON® record of 3.2 seconds.

Cowboys test their luck, athletic ability and technique during this event. Starting out in a holding pen, commonly referred to as the “box,” the steer wrestler and his horse, waiting patiently behind a rope barrier next to a steer in a chute, are ready to run. When the chute gate opens, the steer charges forward and the timer starts. When the steer is a certain distance from the box, the barrier is tripped and the steer wrestler begins to chase after the steer. If the steer wrestler leaves the box too soon and “trips the barrier,” he receives a 10-second penalty.

With the assistance of a hazer, a second cowboy on horseback who keeps the steer running in a straight line, steer wrestlers dismount their horse, hook their arms around the steer’s horns, dig their feet in the ground and flip the steer on its back. The clock only stops when the steer is completely flat on the ground with all four legs pointing in the same direction.

Mattress Firm

Barrel Racing

Barrel Racing

This all-women’s rodeo event requires a team effort between the horse and the rider. In a race against the clock, the cowgirl guides her horse through a cloverleaf pattern — three barrels arranged in a triangle formation.

Running full-speed into the arena, the rider has the option to drive her horse to either the left barrel or the right barrel, first. In an ideal situation, the rider makes sharp turns around each barrel without knocking any over. If the rider knocks over a barrel, a five second penalty will be added to the final time. In an event where every second counts, there is no room for error.

Bull Riding

Bull Riding

In bull riding, the cowboy’s physical strength and ability is tested as he faces-off with a bull weighing up to 2,000 pounds with one goal in mind, to send the rider flying.

Holding on to a bull rope with just one hand, this event requires intense concentration and balance from the bull rider. A bull rope is a flat, braided rope that wraps around the bull’s torso. A weighted metal bell hangs in the middle of the rope and falls free from the animal when the cowboy lets go. Similar to other rough stock events, bull riders will be disqualified if their free hand touches himself, the bull rope or the animal at any point during the ride.

This event is judged on a 100-point scale and takes into account the performance of both the rider and the bull. If the rider is lucky enough to make it to the eight second whistle, he will be judged on his ability to maintain control and correct form during the ride. The bull, on the other hand, will be judged on his athleticism and bucking action.


Chuck Wagon Races

Chuck Wagon Races

With strong ties to Western heritage, the chuck wagon races give RodeoHouston® audiences a taste of the Old West. At one point in time, large, canvas-topped wagons were used on long cattle drives as a kitchen where “chuck” or food was served. Once their bellies were full, cowboys would often race their wagons to pass the time.

Today’s chuck wagon races feature similar canvas-topped wagons, but on a smaller, lighter scale. Wagons are pulled by a team of six, specially-bred horses steered by daring cowboys or cowgirls through a figure 8 pattern in NRG Stadium.

Only three chuck wagon teams are allowed to enter the stadium at a time. An unwritten rule in this competition requires the lead driver to move his or her team to the outer circle of the arena, allowing the other teams access to the inside lane and a chance to catch up.

Traveling at speeds up to 30 miles per hour, the wagon’s 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.


Calf Scramble

Calf Scramble

One of the wildest and most spirited events at RodeoHouston® is the calf scramble. During this event, 30 Texas 4-H and FFA members trade in their boots for tennis shoes, in an attempt to catch one of 15 calves darting in every direction.

The lucky members who catch a calf will be awarded a $1,750 certificate to apply toward the purchase of a registered beef heifer or market steer to exhibit at the Houston Livestock Show™ the following year. Exhibitors who return to the Rodeo will compete in a special competition and receive a $250 bonus check if program requirements are fulfilled.

Truly unscripted, this heartwarming event provides youngsters with the opportunity to chase their dreams in hopes of a bright, educational future. Since 1942, more than 21,000 students received approximately $11.7 million through the calf scramble program.


Mutton Bustin'

Mutton Bustin'

Rounding out the night, RodeoHouston's youngest cowboys and cowgirls cinch up their jeans and climb aboard an atypical rough stock animal — sheep, also known as mutton. Audience members smile and cheer on the determined 5- and 6-year-olds springing out of the chute for a thrilling and unforgettable ride.

While all contestants are winners in the mutton bustin’ competition, the rider who holds on the longest will receive a shiny, gold belt buckle and a resounding round of applause from the crowd. To qualify, all mutton bustin’ participants must be between the ages of five and six years old and not weigh more than 55 pounds.


Breakaway Roping


The newest RODEOHOUSTON event, Breakaway Roping, is a variation of calf roping, starting with a roper in the box and a calf in the chute. When the roper nods to release the calf, it is given a head start and the clock starts running. The roper must rope the calf with a “bell collar catch” and stop their horse. When the rope is pulled tight, it “breaks away” from the saddle where it is tied with a piece of string. When the string breaks, the calf is released and the clock stops.

Most breakaway runs last between 2 and 4 seconds. Not giving the calf the proper head start will result in a broken barrier and a 10 second penalty. An illegal catch, like roping feet in the loop, will result in a no-time. Only the calf is allowed to break the rope free from the saddle, if the roper manually releases the rope, it will also result in a no-time.

Breakaway roping is used in many aspects of horse training and practice. It can be a tool to teach a tie-down roping horse to stop correctly, or a way for kids to start learning the fundamentals. The RODEOHOUSTON event will feature only female competitors and is sanctioned by the WPRA.

Rodeo Records

Bareback Riding 93 points 2014
Kaycee Feild
Tom McFarland
Kaycee Feild
Genola, Utah
Bowie, Texas
Genola, Utah
Barrel Racing
13.92 seconds
Carlee Pierce
Kaley Bass
Stephenville, Texas
Davenport, Florida
Bull Riding
94 points
Tyler Smith
Terry Don West
Fruita, Colorado
Henryetta, Oklahoma
Saddle Bronc Riding
94 points
Cody DeMoss
Heflin, Louisiana
Steer Wrestling
3.2 seconds
Kyle Hughes
Mike Garthwaite
Sean Mulligan
Olney Springs, Colorado
Merritt, B.C., Canada
Aurora, South Dakota
Team Roping
4 seconds
2018 Matt Sherwood & Walt Woodard Pima, Arizona
Stephenville, Texas
Tie-Down Roping 7.4 seconds
Adam Gray
Caleb Smidt
Seymour, Texas
Bellville, Texas   

Rodeo Personnel

From being behind the scenes making sure that every cowboy and cowgirl has their number and performance schedule, to being in the middle of the action retrieving a cowboy from the back of a bucking bronc, there is a group of hardworking people that take part in each performance.

Learn More

Stock Coordinator

  • Cervi Championship Rodeo Company – Sterling, Colorado

Rodeo Arena Director

  • Binion Cervi, Cervi Championship Rodeo Company – Sterling, Colorado

Rodeo Secretary

  • Sunni Deb Backstrom – Congress, Arizona


  • Mary Brunner – Bergheim, Texas
  • Tammy Braden – Welch, Oklahoma

Bullfighters & Barrelman

Whether they’re wearing traditional “baggies” (cut-off jeans, usually held up with suspenders) or a custom-made uniform, bullfighters are the lifeguards of the rodeo arena. Without their amazing athleticism, a cowboy would have to face the challenge of riding, and dismounting, a thousand-pound bull alone. The mission of every bullfighter is to divert the bull's attention away from the exiting rider by whatever means possible.

Working from an open-ended barrel, the barrelman serves as a diversion for an angry bull. The bullfighters may also use the barrel as a distraction to allow escape time for a downed or injured rider.

  • Leon Coffee – Blanco, Texas (RodeoHouston® Barrelman since 1993)
  • Chuck Swisher – Dover, Oklahoma (RodeoHouston® Bullfighter since 2014)
  • Dusty Tuckness – Meeteetse, Wyoming (RodeoHouston® Bullfighter since 2009)
  • Cody Webster – Wayne, Oklahoma (RodeoHouston® Bullfighter since 2015)


The success of rodeo cowboys depends not only on their skills and mastery of the sport, but also on the judges and their ability to make the right call. It is essential that rodeo judges perform their jobs with complete fairness and exceptional knowledge. A rodeo judge's day begins at least three hours before the performance. He and his judging staff look over all the livestock, seeing to it that all animals are healthy and fit to compete. Judges score the roughstock events on both the rider and the animal. The judges scores of 0 - 25 are combined for the contestant's total score. Judges also watch for any incident that would disqualify the rider, such as touching the animal with his free hand or "missing the mark" - failing to have his feet in position at the beginning of a bareback or saddle bronc ride. In timed events, judges ensure the fairness of each run by watching to see if the contestant breaks the barrier, which gives the calf or steer a head start. They also watch for anything that might call for disqualification, including improper catches. Penalty errors, such as only catching one hind leg in team roping, are also kept track of by judges. Judges are also flagmen, calling the end of the run and signaling the timer to mark the official time.

Following every rodeo performance, judges inspect all the livestock that was used and notify the event's veterinarian if any animal needs medical attention and/or treatment.

Pickup Men

Everyone needs a helping hand now and then, but cowboys rely on the pick-up men in the arena to help them out of tight spots. If the bronc rider makes it to the whistle, you can bet the first thing he sees is a man on a horse riding in to help him dismount without injury. The pick-up man's job is to aid the bronc rider in dismounting, while loosening rigging and helping the horse to find the out gate. Pick-up men are all-around cowboys who aid in every event by herding the cattle after roping, helping cowboys off broncs, or even roping a bull who is enjoying the spotlight out of the arena. These men help the rodeo run smoothly.

  • Chase Cervi – Sterling, Colorado
  • Gary Rempel – Fort Shaw, Montana
  • Clint Humble – Newell, South Dakota
  • Randy Brittan – Kiowa, Colorado

Arena Crew

The arena crew is a vital group of individuals that are behind-the-scenes working hard to make sure that each RodeoHouston® performance is a success. Members of the arena crew can be found sorting stock before each performance, loading stock into the chutes, coordinating the opening of all gates and chutes, keeping the arena safe and clear, setting the barrel racing pattern, and much more.


The voices of RodeoHouston® are the pulse of the Rodeo with distinctive voices, wit and continuous tidbits of information. With the best rodeo athletes competing at RodeoHouston®, it is only fitting that the Rodeo features top announcers.

Bob Tallman

  • Poolville, Texas
  • RodeoHouston® announcer since 1982

Boyd Polhamus

  • Brenham, Texas
  • RodeoHouston® announcer since 1995

Andy Seiler

  • Ocala, Florida
  • RodeoHouston® announcer since 2014

Patti Smith

  • The Woodlands, Texas
  • RodeoHouston® color commentator since 2011