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KNOW YOUR RODEO ... Rodeo 101 - the ins & outs of roughstock, timed events

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Staff Writer

This following is written for every tenderfoot who has trod the sawdust in Mansfield Park during the Memorial Day weekend's Cowboy Capital Rodeo and thought to himself, "What in the samhill's going on?" If this is your first CCR, remember, the sport can be addictive. Next thing you know, you'll be attending slack, but that's another subject.

A rodeo sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association features seven events - three roughstock and four timed competitions. Roughstock events consist of eight-second rides on bulls, bareback broncs and saddle broncs while timed events include calf roping - sometimes known as "tie-down" roping - team roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing.

Here's the lowdown on each event.

Bull riding
It doesn't get crazier than It doesn't get crazier than this. A 130-pound (and that's soakin' wet) cowboy places himself on the back of a 2,000-pound bucking bull, holds on tight and eight seconds later hopes to still be alive. All that saves the rider from oblivion is a bull rope wrapped around the animal's midsection and his "holt" on the rope - plus balance, strength, grit, grim determination and blunt-rowel spurs.

If the cowboy's free hand touches the bull, he's disqualified. If he spurs the critter, he's rewarded.

Performances of the bull and rider are rated from one to 50 with the combined scores making-up the cowboy's final tally - and mebbe the difference between a trip to the pay window or to the hospital. Perfect score is 100.

Saddle bronc riding
Considered rodeo's classic event, when done right, this event is a thing of beauty. "Done right" means the cowboy synchronizes his spurring with the rhythmic bucking of the horse, sweeping his feet from the bronc's neck to the back of the saddle, before snapping them back to the neck of the horse a split second before the bronc's front feet hit the ground.

In addition, the rider is required to mark his horse out of the chute. "Marking out" means the rider's spurs must be glued to the horse's shoulders until the bronc jumps out of the chute. If a cowboy fails to "mark out" his bronc, he is disqualified. Slapping anything with his free hand also rates as a "no no." A bronc rider uses a custom-built saddle and a thick bronc rein.

Penultimate bronc rider? Six-time World Champion Casey Tibbs, immortalized by a bronze statue in front of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "Ride, cowboy, ride!"

Bareback riding
No saddles allowed in this No saddles are allowed in this wild and wooly competition - just a leather rigging topped with something resembling a suitcase handle. The rider grips the "suitcase handle" with one hand while perched atop an exploding buckin' bronc, making sure his free hand touches nothing but sky during the ride.

Perhaps the most physically demanding event, the cowboy lays back and holds onto his suitcase handle for dear life. Again, he must mark his horse out of the chute or face disqualification. Spurring is mandatory and scoring is on a 50-50 basis.

Calf or tie-down roping
In this event, a cowboy and a calf begin in separate boxes at one end of the arena. The cowboy chases a calf down the arena, ropes him and ties three of his legs securely with a piggin string - within a reasonable amount of time. For a championship run, that means less than 10 seconds and sometimes less than five.

If a roper breaks the barrier and fails to give the calf the requisite head start, he's penalized 10 seconds. Also, after tying the calf and remounting, the roper edges his horse forward allowing the rope around the calf's neck to slacken. If the calf kicks free of the piggin string in less than six seconds, the run is disqualified.

The world record for calf roping belongs to Lee Phillips, who did the deed in 5.7 seconds in 1978. During that dazzling run, Phillips' horse supposedly never left the box.

Team roping
Rodeo's only true team event features two ropers, a header and a heeler who work in tandem to subdue a steer suitably.

Rules allow the header to lasso the steer's head and one horn, neck or both horns. Breaking the barrier gets the header a 10-second penalty. If all goes well, after lassoing the steer, the header tows the recalcitrant steer to the left, enabling the heeler to rope the steer's back legs.

Catching only a single leg results in a five-point penalty. Also, if the heeler throws his loop before the header changes direction, the team is disqualified. The clock stops when both ropers face one another with slack out of both ropes. Got all that?

Rules for this rodeo event are almost as complicated as those for Olympic ice dancing.

Steer wrestling
This "big boys" event that pits cowboys against steers was brought to the rodeo arena by African-American cowboy Bill Pickett. However, the modern version has thankfully dispensed with Pickett's penchant for biting steers on their noses. He was said to emulate dogs trained to keep cattle in line, coining the sport's moniker, "bulldogging."

As in all timed events, the steers get a head start and breaking the barrier results in a penalty for the steer wrestler. A second rider, a hazer, on the steer's right side keeps it running straight.

As the steer wrestler's horse approaches the animal, the bulldogger slides off his horse and reaches for the steer's horns. Ideally, he hooks the right horn in the crook of his right elbow and grabs the left horn with his left hand. Digging his heels into the dirt, he turns the steer and, using leverage, "wrestles" it to the dirt in a smooth motion. Ideal, however, doesn't always happen.
This event is best watched at an outdoor arena after a heavy rain - and a longneck or two.

Barrel racing
In this event, cowgirls take center arena -¬ literally. Three barrels are placed in a triangular pattern on the dirt. Beginning their run outside the arena, the contestant and her horse trip an electronic eye going full tilt boogie. After circling the three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern at a gallop, the pair heads home. And the fastest cowgal wins.

Brushing or wobbling a barrel is considered okay, but knocking one over results in a five-second penalty.

The undisputed queen of barrel racing is Charmayne James, who, with her extraordinary horse, Scamper, won 10 world championships.