22 Rodeo Terms You Should Know for your First Rodeo

The sport of rodeo has seven traditional events that all have their own unique terminology. While you soak in all the action, you may end up confused as to why a steer wrestler just received a no time or a barrel racer just had five seconds added to her time. We know that rodeo can be a challenging sport to learn, and we’re here to help! Whether you’re a greenhorn, what we call rodeo newbies, or just looking to expand your rodeo knowledge, check out these 22 words you should know before each rodeo event!

Breaking the barrier:
This term is used when cowboys in the tie-down roping, steer wrestling, and team roping don’t give the steer or calf an appropriate head start, which is determined by the size of the arena. A breakaway rope is attached to the steer and stretched across the open end of the box. When the steer reaches the advantage point, the barrier is released and cowboys take off. Breaking the barrier costs them a 10-second penalty.

An untamed horse that has been bred to buck. Broncs are used in the bareback riding and saddle bronc riding events. 

The rodeo word for a bull or bronc “kicking” in rough stock events.

Otherwise known as a steer wrestler, this is the cowboy who wrestles the steer to the ground.

After each bull ride, the bullfighters distract the bull so the cowboy can escape the arena safely. They also will assist the pickup men in getting the bull to leave the arena. 

Chaps are made of sturdy leather and are customized to fit each rider’s personality. Though they can be flashy, their main job is to protect the cowboy’s legs.

A small rectangular pen that holds bulls, horses, steers, and calves before each rodeo event.

The name of the pattern barrel racers run around the three barrels. 

Flank strap:
A sheepskin-lined or padded leather strap that encourages the rough stock to buck.

Roughstock riders must have one hand holding on to the riggin’ (bareback), bull rope (bull riding) or bronc rein (saddle bronc) and their other hand up in the air. If at any point they slap the animal or themselves, they will receive a no score.  

This is the cowboy that helps keep the steer running straight for the steer wrestler (or bulldogger) to catch in steer wrestling. 

Head Nod:
In each of the roughstock events and in the tie-down roping, team roping, and steer wrestling, cowboys nod their heads to signal the chute boss they are ready for the gate to open. In the roughstock events, this is when the gate swings open for the bulls and broncs to buck out into the arena. In the timed-events, the chute opens for the steer or calf to run into the arena and the timer starts.

This is the cowboy that ropes first in team roping, aiming for the steer’s horns.

This is the cowboy that ropes second in team roping, aiming for the steer’s hind legs.

Hung up:
This can occur in all roughstock events but is most common in bull riding. This happens when the rider’s hand gets caught in either their bull rope or riggin’. 

No score:
A few ways this can occur is when the rider falls off the stock before eight seconds in the roughstock events, misses the steer or calf in the timed events, and when a barrel racer breaks the cloverleaf pattern. 

Pickup men:
During all roughstock events, they help push or rope stock to lead them out of the arena. They also assist bareback and saddle bronc riders after their rides, helping them get off their broncs and back on the ground.

If a bull or bronc fouls the rider during any point of the ride, ultimately hindering the rider from showcasing his ability, he will be awarded a re-ride. Judges will also grant re-rides if bulls or broncs don’t perform up to par, resulting in a low score for the rider. 

A riggin’ is a leather and rawhide handle that wraps around the chest and the back of the bronc for bareback riders to hold on to during their ride. Oftentimes, this can be described as looking like a suitcase handle. 

Roughstock events:
This refers to the category that saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, and bull riding events fall into. All of the other events are called timed events.

Tipping a barrel:
In barrel racing, the rider has to go around all three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern. To make a clean run, barrel racers must do their run and leave all of the barrels in the original upright position. If a barrel falls, five seconds are added onto the barrel racers’ time. 

Spurs are a metal tool that is attached to the heel of the rider’s boot and act as a way to encourage the stock to perform (in the roughstock events) or speed up (in the timed events). 

Ready to rodeo with the knowledge of these rodeo terms?! Check out our event schedule!