Pages Navigation Menu

Let’s Go to the RODEO!

Let’s Go to the RODEO (plus a few books you can add to your reading list)!

One thing I’ve learned from raising two boys is that they don’t sit idle for very long and everything is a competition. It makes perfect sense that the work done every day by residents of the early western frontier would eventually be turned into a competitive spectator sport.

Cowtown Competitions

In a previous blog, I wrote about bull riding and how the cowboys of Pecos, Texas decided upon a match of skills. These tests of skill sprang up everywhere. Cowboys competed at the tasks they did every day in their work, such as horseback riding, roping a steer, tying down a calf, and gathering cattle. As they drove the livestock to the trail heads where the cows were separated by ranch, loaded on to train cars and shipped to market, the cow-towns along the way were witness to many such informal competitions. Several places lay claim to being the first. The first formalized competition where prize money and trophies were awarded is claimed by Prescott, Arizona as the longest running rodeo from July 4, 1888. It wasn’t until the 1920s when rodeo became officially recognized as a competitive sport.

2012 branding day 5

Flanking during spring branding by daywork cowboys on the Sanford Ranch.

To Surround

The term “rodeo” comes from the Spanish word “rodear”, meaning to roundup or surround, in reference to the actual gathering of the herd. As the Spanish settled California and established large ranches, they relied on talented Spanish cattle wranglers, the Vaqueros. The American cowboys can trace their equipment and technique back to the Vaquero. Spanish rodeo today focuses on style and performance, whereas the American rodeos include timed events with an emphasis on speed.

PRCAhorse _color

For today’s rodeo fans, it’s one of the most varied sports in history offering several different events in a test of skill, speed and courage. Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association oversees more than 2,000 rodeos every year held throughout the United States and Canada. The cowboys, as well as the livestock, are professional athletes in their own right and compete for thousands of dollars in prize money.


The Working Ranch Cowboy’s Association headquarters in Amarillo, Texas. Teams are comprised of cowboys and cowgirls representing their perspective ranch employers. Events include wild cow milking, stray gathering, and wild bronc riding. The finals are held every year in November in Amarillo. Tickets go fast so make your plans early. You’ll see working cowboys from ranches representing several states.


The Professional Bull Riders began in 1992 when 20 bullriders pooled their resources and developed markets for a stand alone sport, and now hosts around 300 events each year. Tours have expanded into Australia, Brazil, Canada and Mexico.

Rodeo Reads

If you want to read more about the rodeo, here are a few of my favorites:

The Natural by Dusty Richards (Signet, 2002); about a rodeo announcer as he juggles work, a love interest, and a kid with a natural talent for the sport.

Cowgirl Up: A History of Rodeo Women by Heidi Thomas ( Globe Pequot, 2014); A look at the very first women involved in the sport  between the late 1800s to the mid-20th century.

Steamboat, Legendary Bucking Horse: His Life and Times, and the Cowboys who Tried to Tame Him by Candy and Flossie Moulton (High Plains Press, 1992). You’ve seen this horse before on a Wyoming license plate. This is an interesting look at how a horse became a legend.



Our oldest son and his youth rodeo team compete against other teams in several events including roping.

Natalie Cline Bright is a blogger and author of the fun, historical western TROUBLE IN TEXAS series for middle grades, the RESCUE ANIMAL eBook series, and is currently working on an action-packed novel for young adults, WOLF’S WAR. Read about Natalie’s grandmother and her cherry salad recipe, recently selected for “THE WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: Favorite Recipes, Cooking Tips, and Writing Wisdom” (TwoDot Publishing, June 2017).