Understanding the Scoring System at Rodeos

All the Intricacies of Judging Rodeo Events

Galloping horse
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Rodeo judging and scoring are incredibly important and heavily scrutinized because a mere half a point can be the difference between taking home a cash prize and going home empty-handed. Here, we explore the rodeo scoring system and the difficult job of being a rodeo judge.

How Does Rodeo Scoring Work?

Rodeo scores are given by two to four judges. Rodeo is unique in the fact that both the cowboys and animals are judged on their performance. Each judge scores between 1 and 25 points for the cowboy and between 1 and 25 points for the animal. In the case of four judges, the scores are added from them all and divided by 2. This will result in a score from 4 to 100. Cowboys and animals can have an off night, and because of this, there is a low score (usually 59 points) that triggers an automatic re-ride option. This prevents the cowboy from being penalized for an underperforming animal.

Why Is Rodeo Judging so Difficult?

Unlike judges in many other sports, professional rodeo judges have to know the intricacies of seven different competitive sports. These seven events include three “rough stock” events—bull riding, bareback riding and saddle bronc riding—and four timed events—tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing.

Each of these seven events features 15 top qualifiers. For the team roping event, each team consists of two ropes, so there are 30 cowboys who qualify in that event.

Additionally, each event has its own particular rules that the judges must assess, and each presents its own difficulties. For example, bull riding lasts a mere eight seconds, and during that time the judges must be looking not only for the rider but also the bull. In bareback riding, the rider is judged on his or her spurring technique, the degree to which his or her toes remain turned out while spurring and the rider's willingness to take whatever might come during the ride.