Getting A Handle On Rodeo: An Overview

The sport of rodeo originated on the plains of Spain and Mexico. Later, it migrated to the United States, Australia and other countries. Today, it's enjoyed by fans and participants around the globe. The word "rodeo" was adopted from the Spanish word that meant to "round up." To vaqueros' (Spanish cowboys), the term "rodeo" was the name of a system they used to gather cattle. However, times have changed. Its contemporary usage is now primarily accorded to rodeo sporting events.

Evolution Of Rodeo

Unlike many sports, professional rodeo wasn't originally designed as a sporting event. Instead, it slowly emerged from the working routines of the vaqueros and American cowboys. As the cowboys pushed cattle across the plains, the sport developed during the down times. That is, because the cowhands had little else to do, they created the early form of rodeo as a game to pass the time. Cowboys first took turns to see who could ride bucking horses without being thrown. Gradually, the game grew to include other competitions. Over time, ranches began to send their best cowboys to compete against one another. Professional rodeo was beginning to take form.

Different Rodeo Events

Today, professional rodeo is comprised of several events. There are timed events, roping competitions and "rough stock" tournaments. Timed events include barrel racing, pole bending and steer wrestling. Typically, barrel racing is reserved for cowgirls while steer wrestling attracts cowboys. Timed events also include goat tying in which women and young people compete.

Roping competitions include calf roping, team roping, breakaway roping and steer roping. In recent years, steer roping has all but vanished from professional rodeo due to the risk of injury and claims of animal cruelty. The "rough stock" events consist of bronc riding and bull riding. Both carry an inherent risk of injury due to the nature of the event as well as the lack of predictability of the animals.


There are several organizations that govern the sport of professional rodeo. Among them are the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), the largest of the groups, Professional Bull Riders (PBR), an organization devoted to bull riding competitions, Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) and the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA).

Though the PRCA dominated the sport for years, the PBR has consistently attracted more of the industry's top performers. With large purses in excess of a million dollars and high-profile tournaments in locations like Las Vegas, the PBR (along with the WPRA) has slowly become the reigning professional rodeo organization.


Rodeo events have drawn the constant ire of those concerned about the welfare of the animals used in the competitions. Claims of animal cruelty date back to the late 1800's. Throughout much of the 20th century, the care of the animals used has evolved due to the accusations from animal activists. Today, the governing organizations require the presence of veterinarians at all sanctioned events.

Worldwide Appeal

Though professional rodeo sprang from meager roots, its popularity has grown throughout Brazil, Canada and Australia. Plus, the sport maintains a consistent following in the United States, attracting both male and female spectators and competitors. The governing bodies of rodeo strive to inject a level of professionalism into the sport while promoting its appeal to new fans and sponsors. Though the sport of rodeo has evolved over time, its longevity looks all but guaranteed.