Cowboy Essentials: What Equipment Do Roughstock Cowboys Bring to Rodeos?
When you pack for a road trip, what are some of the things you must have? Clothes, a camera, maybe even some snacks for the road? If you’re a roughstock cowboy, you’re packing all of that plus your gear! It’s like going on a long rodeo trip nearly every weekend of the year. People have this perception that roughstock cowboys just show up to a rodeo with the broncs or bulls waiting for them in the chute. Once they arrive, all they have to do is hop (and hold) on for the ride, and then they jet off to the next rodeo. While it’s true they don’t haul horses, feed, and tack, they do have a pretty lengthy list of gear for an eight-second job. In this blog, we’ll break down all the equipment roughstock cowboys must bring to the rodeo!
For all roughstock events, riders use chaps to help protect their legs before, during, and after their ride. Chaps are made out of thick, durable leather, with two or three fasteners that attach around their legs. You won’t have trouble spotting them, as they are often decorated in bright colors and fringe.
Helmet or Cowboy Hat
During each event, contestants are required to wear hats as part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association dress code. The roughstock riders are given two choices while they are competing, cowboy hats or helmets. Bronc riders typically wear their cowboy hat, and most bull riders chose to ride in a helmet for added protection against the bulls! Now, obviously, they are given some leeway during their ride, and if their hat falls off, they aren’t fined or penalized.
In bull riding and occasionally in bronc riding, you’ll notice contestants wearing vests. This is to help protect the cowboys from getting seriously injured if they are thrown off, get stepped on by stock, or are hooked by a bull’s horn.
Spurs are a metal tool attached to the heel of the rider’s boot and act as a way to encourage the stock to perform. Since half of their score depends on the stock, the better they buck, the better the score. Contestants must follow all PRCA livestock welfare rules regarding the spurs used on the stock.
This is a suitcase-style handhold customized to a rider’s grip, attached to a molded piece of leather cinched with a pad around the horse’s girth. A riggin’ is used in the bareback riding event and is made of leather and rawhide. (Read more about the different types of bronc riding here.)
This goes without saying, but gloves help the contestants hold on to their riggin’ or bull rope and protect their hands from the rope throughout their ride.
Roughstock riders use glue, called rosin, to help their grip on the riggin’ or rope. You’ll often see the cowboys apply it to their gloves and heat the glue by rubbing it into the rope they hold onto.
In both bronc and bull riding, contestants must apply their flank straps, an adjustable sheepskin-lined leather strap (broncs), or a rope (for bull riding) to the animals to encourage the animal to buck. Despite what you may have heard, the flank strap is not tied around the animal’s genitals but around the hips of the bull or bronc. Bucking stock can’t be forced to buck, they are born buckers. After the eight-second ride, the flank strap is quickly taken off the stock by the pickup men.
The roughstock events are some of the most straining rodeo events on the body. To prevent injury during each event, contestants will wrap their joints, primarily their ankles and wrists. Many contestants will also use double-sided tape to help keep their gloves and boots on during the ride.
For saddle bronc riding, contestants bring their own saddle to place on the bronc they drew. It’s important that they bring their own saddle because saddles aren’t a “one-size-fits-all” type of situation.
Rope and Bell
For bull riding, contestants will travel with a rope, typically a 16-foot long braided piece of polypropylene complete with a bell at the bottom. When bull riders slide down onto the bull, they hand the “tail” of the rope to a friend to pull tight. Once it’s good and snug, the rider will position his hand into the handle of the rope, grabbing the “tail” and taking his wrap. Once the ride is complete, the rider will undo his hand from the handle, and the bell attached to the bottom of the bull rope, for added weight, aids in the rope falling off the bull.
Along with wearing chaps and a vest, if you look closely, you can also see the bareback rider is using a mouth guard.
The PRCA currently has more than 70 rules that protect the rough stock before, during and after the rodeo event. One of those rules applies to the contestants’ spurs, which limits the length of the spurs.
At first sight, it may be hard to tell the difference between saddle bronc riding and bareback riding, but if you look at the contestants’ equipment (or lack of certain gear), you can quickly differentiate between the two.