Rodeo is a competitive sport that is performed in many countries around the world. Most people think that it originated in the Western US, but actually, it arose out of the working practices of cattle herding in Spain, Mexico, and later the United States, Canada, South America and Australia. Rodeo events continue to be held in many of these countries. It is a presentation of cowboy skills on a competitive level. The early “rodeo” was extremely informal. Beginning in the 1820s, cowboys and vaqueros of the Western United States and Mexico would compete against one another to test their working skills. After the Civil War, rodeo began to mature and the individual events began to take shape and became more of what we know rodeo to be now.

The first rodeo was held in Cheyenne, WY, in 1872. However, the Prescott, Ariz. rodeo receives its claim to fame as the “World’s Oldest Rodeo” because, in 1888, they were the first to charge admission and award prizes, making it the first professional rodeo. Rodeo grew rapidly across the U.S. and Canada. By 1910, there were numerous established rodeos that are still held today: Calgary Stampede, Pendleton Round-Up, and Cheyenne Frontier Days. Arizona is lucky enough to hold both “The World’s Oldest Rodeo” in Prescott and “The World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo” in Payson.

Until 1929, there was no regulation on the events for a rodeo competition. As the number of rodeos grew, organizations began forming to standardize the rules of competition. These organizations are largely sanctioning bodies that govern the sport at a youth, college, and professional level. Pro rodeos are composed of rough stock and timed events. Timed events in a standard pro rodeo include:

  • Tie Down Roping
  • Team Roping
  • Steer Wrestling
  • Barrel Racing

Rough stock events include:

  • Bareback Riding
  • Saddle Bronc Riding
  • Bull Riding

Other events recognized by competitors as rodeo events include:

  • Breakaway Roping
  • Goat Tying
  • Pole Bending
  • Steer Roping

Cowboys who participate in the Rough Stock events are referred to by competitors as “Roughies;” similarly, cowboys that participate in timed events are called “Timies.” Roughies and Timies do not usually compete in the other category. A Timie will normally hang with other Timies and vice versa.

Breakaway roping and goat tying for the ladies is a broken-up version of the tie down roping for men. The calves used in the tie down roping can be a great challenge for a woman to flank; so they break up the event into two separate ones for the girls.

Mutton Busting at Ski Hi Rodeo

Mutton Busting

Nobody expects to break or ride a sheep, but it has a benefit. It’s a chance for little kids to get a taste of adventure, a feel for what it’s like to be a cowboy. They might get bruised and they’ll definitely get dirty, but it’s an experience they will never forget. Mutton busting is the sport of bareback sheep riding. Kiddie competitors challenge themselves and the sheep to see who can hold on the longest as they try for a qualifying time in the rodeo arena. Mutton busting is similar to bull riding, except that the contestants wear more protective gear and are closer to the ground. A sheep is held still, either in a small chute or by an adult handler, while a child is placed on top in a riding position. Once the child is seated, the sheep is released and usually starts to run in an attempt to get the child off. Often small prizes or ribbons are given out to the children who can stay on the longest. There are no set rules for mutton busting, no national organization, and most events are organized at the local level. However, children who begin as mutton busters could go on to be top Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) money winners or, at least, tops on the hometown rodeo circuit. The vast majority of children participating in the event fall off in less than 8 seconds. Age, height and weight restrictions on participants generally prevent injuries to the sheep, and implements such as spurs are banned from use. In most cases, children are required to wear helmets and parents are often asked to sign waivers to protect the rodeo from legal action.

The practice has been documented as having been introduced to the National Western Stock Show in Denver, at least by the 1980s when an event was sponsored by Nancy Stockdale Cervi, a former rodeo queen. At that event, children ages five to seven who weighed less than 55 pounds could apply, and ultimately seven contestants were selected to each ride a sheep for six seconds. There are no statistics about the popularity of the sport, but anecdotal reports suggest thousands of children participate in such events every year in the U.S. Supporters consider the event both entertaining and a way to introduce young children to the adult rodeo “rough stock” riding events of bull riding, saddle bronc, and bareback riding, and they may liken its rough-and-tumble nature to the way youth sports such as football are played.