Getting A Handle On Steer Wrestling

One of the most dangerous events in professional rodeo, steer wrestling is also one of the most popular. Wrestling a running steer to the ground not only presents inherent danger of injury to the competitor, but also outrages many animal rights activists. Traditionally, the event has been exclusive to cowboys since cowgirl steer wrestling isn't sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).

Unlike other rodeo events that sprang from the daily duties of cowboys in the early 20th century, steer wrestling was popularized after a man named Bill Pickett wrestled a steer to the ground during a Wild West show. Below, you'll learn basics and dangers of steer wrestling as well as the controversy that surrounds the event.

Basics Of Bulldogging

Steer wrestling is also called "bulldogging." A rider begins on his horse and a steer is released from a chute. The rider chases the steer while atop his horse. The bulldogger (i.e. rider) attempts to catch up to the steer. While his horse maintains a fast gallop, the bulldogger leans toward the steer. When the steer is positioned properly, the rider grabs the steer horns and allows the slower-moving steer to pull him from his horse.

Once free of his horse, the bulldogger tries to swing his feet in front of him to plant his heels into the ground. This is an attempt to slow himself and the steer while maintaining his grip around the steer's horns. After the bulldogger has slowed their progress, he takes one of his hands and jerks the steer's nose, throwing it off-balance and hopefully, off its feet. The goal is to get all of the steer's legs off the ground in the quickest time possible. Most top-seated professionals can successfully complete their runs in under 10 seconds.

Potential Dangers Of Steer Wrestling

The riders who compete in steer wrestling are in more danger of injury than nearly every other professional rodeo event (the exceptions are bull riding and bronc riding). Several things can happen during the event. First, a rider could misjudge the distance, speed and position of himself and the steer during his dismount from his horse. He could miss the steer entirely, injuring himself by hitting the ground awkwardly.

Second, steers are often unpredictable. Ideally, when the bulldogger twists the steer's horns and nose in a certain direction, the steer will be thrown off-balance in a manner anticipated by the rider. However, if a steer falls differently, it could land directly on top of the rider, injuring him. Most steers used in professional rodeo competitions weigh between 450 and 650 pounds.

The Controversy Surrounding Steer Wrestling

Most rodeo events cause complaints of animal abuse. Activists feel that the animals used during the events are mistreated (even though the PRCA requires that measures be taken to protect the animals' safety). But, steer wrestling raises the most indignation from activists. Animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have routinely expressed outrage that bulldogging abuses cattle for amusement. In reality, a review of nearly 34,000 bulldogging runs found the injury rate amongst steers at less than 1/500th of 1 percent.

Despite this, the controversy continues. The future of steer wrestling will likely depend upon the industry's responsiveness to claims of animal cruelty. Ironically, the popularity of the event has remained high for decades. Its biggest challenge down the road may well be how it navigates the choppy waters of animal rights activism.