Learn the lingo


To help understand what modern day rodeos are all about, here are some terms and phrases commonly used during the competition that might help spectators understand the sport a little more:

Timed Events

Any event in which the cowboy or cowgirl is racing against the clock. Steer wrestling, calf roping, team roping and barrel racing are the most common.

Riding Events

A term used to refer to the saddle bronc, bareback, and bull riding events.

Rough Stock

Livestock that is used in riding events as opposed to timed events.


The area where the animal is held prior to the event. In the rough stock events, this is where the cowboy gets on the animal and the area is just in front of the grandstands.

The timed-event chutes are at the west end of the stadium, just to the right of the announcer's booth.

Initial Contact Rule

This term is used in both bareback and saddle bronc riding. It refers to where the cowboy's heels, or spurs, are positioned on the animal when it leaves the chutes. The cowboy's feet are required to be above the horse's shoulders, giving advantage to the horse coming out of the chute. If the cowboy's feet aren't positioned properly, a judge will throw a yellow flag onto the arena ground, nullifying the ride.

The rule is not needed in the bull riding event.

The Barrier

An advantage is also given to the animals in the timed events through what is called the barrier rule. The barrier is actually two pieces of rope connected by a piece of kite string in front of the chute. In timed events, if the cowboy breaks through the barrier before it is released by another rope, which is tied to the steer or calf, then a 10-second penalty is assessed to the cowboy.

All-around cowboy

This term is the title given to the athlete who accumulates the most money in two or more events.

The Mountain States Rodeo Circuit

One of 12 professional rodeo regions, the Mountain States Circuit includes rodeos in Colorado and Wyoming. Cowboys earn points for performances at these rodeos, and the cowboys who earn the most points qualify for the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo.

Dodge National Circuit Finals

This rodeo awards more than $425,000 in prize money and features two contestants from each of rodeo's 12 geographic divisions. World champions and weekend cowboys alike qualify based on how they do in their home "circuits."


A term that cowboys use to describe a particularly vicious bull or bucking horse. Most often, it is used in a complimentary way -- generally, the ranker a bull or bucking horse is, the higher the score.


In team roping, the cowboy who catches the steer's horns is called the header.


In team roping, the cowboy who catches the steer's hind legs is the heeler.


In steer wrestling, one cowboy rides alongside the steer to keep it running straight so that the steer wrestling can catch the steer and wrestle it to the ground.

Generally, steer wrestlers give 25 percent of whatever they win to their hazers.

Often, one hazer will haze for several steer wrestlers, and many steer wrestlers also haze for other steer wrestlers.

National Finals Rodeo

The biggest rodeo of the year, the National Finals Rodeo is held every December in Las Vegas. Only the top 15 money winners in each event qualify for the 10-round rodeo, which has a purse of more than $4 million. The National Finals Rodeo decides the world champion in each event.


Often, there are more cowboys entered in a rodeo than there are slots for them to compete. When this happens, cowboys who are not scheduled to compete in one of the regular performances post their times or score during slack, which is generally held the morning of the rodeo or the day before. Scores and times posted during slack count just like those posted during the regular performance.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.