The Basics of Rodeo Bareback Riding

What You Need to Know about Bareback Bronc Riding at the Rodeo

Rodeo
Allan Harris/flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

Bareback bronc riding is a rough and explosive rodeo event. The most physically demanding of all the rodeo events, it is also the first event to compete at most rodeos. Cowboys ride rough horses without the benefit of saddle or rein, trying to stay on the horse while the horse attempts to buck off the rider.

How Bareback Rodeo Riding Works

Cowboys ride bareback on the horse and use a leather rigging, which looks like a heavy piece of leather with a suitcase handle.

The cowboys ride one-handed and cannot touch themselves or the horse with their free hand. As with saddle bronc riding, the mark-out rule is in effect. This means the bronc riders must have the rowels of both spurs in front of, and touching, the break of the bronc's shoulders on its first move out of the chute. The rider's feet must still be in this position when the bronc's front feet hit the ground for the first time.

The Cowboys spur the horse from shoulder to rigging in a frantic style, trying to complete a qualifying ride of eight seconds. Once the ride is completed, pickup men swoop in to "pick up" the rider and set him safely on the ground.

Judging the cowboys and horses

Both the riders and the horses are judged. Cowboys are judged on their control and spurring technique. A bareback rider is assessed on how much his toes remain turned out while he is spurring and his ability to adapt to whatever happens during the ride.

The horses are judged on their power, speed, and agility.

A good score in bareback riding is in the mid-80s.

High risk of injury

Bareback bronc riding is considered a "rough-stock" event, and its competitors face the potential of serious injury. While bull riding accounts for the most injuries---about half of rodeo-related accidents---bareback riding causes about a quarter of all rodeo injuries.

Cowboys competing in bareback take a lot of punishment on their arms, necks, and backs due to the power and quickness of the horses. As a result, elbow, shoulder and neck injuries are particularly common.