Visiting the U.S.A.? Don’t Miss the Rodeo!

American Rodeo

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The Fastest Sport in the World! The Cowboy Rodeo

“We’ll make camp here tonight.  Dismount and start collecting those buffalo chips.  It’s buffalo chip chili for dinner!”  These were the first words my horse-camp counselor said to us as she slid down the side of her horse upon arriving at our stopping point that evening.  After ten days of a group camp setting, learning all about horse grooming, how to saddle a horse, and riding every day on our assigned horse, we were on the crowning event, a two-day horse trek in the Wyoming back country, and now we were going to make dinner with buffalo dung?!

American Rodeo

American Rodeo

Not sure if Spurs (none of the counselors had normal names) was serious or not, we looked around in disbelief, shrugging our shoulders, completely unsure what our next move was.  “Get with it!” she yelled, “Like this.”  She bent over, picked up a very dry spiral of dung.  “Come on. We’ve got to get the fire started, and the chili in the pot.”

One brave girl, my age with two long blonde braids, finally asked what we were all thinking. “Is that going in the chili?”

Spurs chuckled, expecting our anxiety, and said, “Eat the chips?!  No.  We need it to make the fire.  Do you see any wood around here?”

Well, now that she mentioned it, we looked around the dry, almost desert-like prairie, and saw that there were very few trees.  The few stunted, twisted ones that occasionally poked up seemed a long way off, near the hill.  We all sighed, quite relieved, and started gathering chips, piling them where another counselor was starting to mark out our fire pit.

The night was memorable.  We ate bowls of chili out of our mess kits, sang campfire songs, had Girl Scout sundaes (oranges with peppermint sticks stuck in them), roasted marshmallows, and when it got really dark, and the stars were shining, we all unrolled our sleeping bags and slept right there on top of the ground.

That was probably the closest thing I’ve ever come to experiencing the cowboy life, and let me tell you, it was amazing!

The Wild, Wild West

When you think of America, you just can’t help but think of the wild, wild west.  Black and white movies about the old west, bad guys and good guys, spring to mind.  Whether you live in the States or are just planning a visit, if you are going to be in the U.S.A. this summer, you need to find a little of that uniquely North American spirit, the cowboy spirit.  There are plenty of cities to go and learn about cowboys,  and Native Americans,  like Denver, Oklahoma City, and Fort Worth. You can see a live stock auction, visit museums, visit national parks made famous by Teddy Roosevelt, do horse treks, or you can go to a rodeo!

American Rodeo

What is a Rodeo?

A rodeo is a sport, an event, a chance to get together and see some of the top cowboys in the world compete.  There are two types of competitions: roughstock, like bull-riding; and timed, like barrel racing.  Cowboys don’t receive a salary for competing in rodeos as many athletes do in other sports.  Instead they make their money running their ranches and growing stock.  The competition does pay out prize money, but since the cowboy has to pay to enter, sometimes they make absolutely nothing.  Why do it?  The adrenaline rush and the chance to show off some down-home cowboy skills is the reason most do it.  It’s fun!

American Rodeo

Roughstock events include saddle bronc or bareback riding.  The cowboy is let out of the chute and rides the horse, while it tries to buck him off, for as long as possible.  It’s not just about time, though, judges award points for style and skill as well.  Eight seconds is the minimum a cowboy must stay on, in perfect position and this is no small feat on a bucking bronco!

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Bull riding is very similar, except that most people never ride a bull.  The bulls, weighing in at about 1,000 pounds aren’t real keen on having someone on their back.  It’s one of the most popular events in the rodeo, even the youngsters get in on the act on mini-bulls.

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The rest of the events are timed events.  They include: barrel racing, steer wrestling, team roping, and steer roping.  All are fast-paced and dangerous.

In barrel racing a rider must race against the clock and the other racers’ times.  The course has three barrels as obstacles, and if one gets knocked down there is a penalty.  This sport is dominated by women, and they must complete the course within sixty seconds.

American Rodeo


Roping is another set of events: team roping and tie-down roping.  These events were based on some necessary skills cowboys used to maintain their stock herds in the old days. The team roping is where a team of two ropers chase down and rope a running cow.  One team member secures the head and holds the steer while the other ropes the hooves.    The tie-down roping, or calf roping, is exactly what it sounds like.  One cowboy chases a calf, ropes it, tackles it to the ground and ties it up.  It’s a fast event and surprisingly suspenseful.

American Rodeo American Rodeo American Rodeo American Rodeo

Practical Information:

When and where: As you might imagine, most of the rodeos are held more in the western part of North America, but there are a few east of the Mississippi and all you have to do is check the schedules to find out where.  They begin in May and go all the way through October, so it should be relatively easy to fit one into your trip itinerary.

Tips: Bring a hat and drink lots of water.  Rodeos, naturally, are outside and the sun is beating down.  There is nothing worse than dealing with a rodeo sunburn for the next week.

American Rodeo







21 thoughts on “Visiting the U.S.A.? Don’t Miss the Rodeo!

  1. Ava says:

    I used to live in Clemson, SC, and they had two rodeos a year (one in spring, one in the fall). I absolutely loved going! What a great experience.

  2. Karilyn says:

    I’m from Dallas and can you believe I’ve never been to a rodeo? I have always been too scared to see the animals getting hurt! Sounds like a cool experience you had. Maybe I will attempt to take my son someday!

    • Corinne Vail says:

      Karilyn, I’ve been to my share of rodeos and loved them all. I’ve never seen an animal hurt or mistreated. I think you would like it.

  3. SJ says:

    Yaaaaaahooooo!!! I saw one of these on a trip to the USA a few years back, and LOVED it. What a tough bunch of guys they are.

  4. Anda says:

    Cowboy Rodeo doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but it surely seems entertaining. Being in Europe for so long you probably missed American shows like this, didn’t you Corinne?

    • Corinne Vail says:

      Anda, I lived in Wyoming, cowboy central, as a young girl and saw plenty! It’s probably where I really fell in love with the old West!

  5. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} says:

    Somehow, my kids have never been to the rodeo even though they’ve lived in Texas most of their life. I grew up in Houston, and the annual rodeo was a BIG deal. We’re headed to Wyoming in a few months, and the rodeo in Cody is definitely on the itinerary.

  6. Andrea says:

    The rodeo in Cody, Wyoming is pretty great and they put on a good show for the tourists. I like the horse barrel racing the best. The bull riding scares me!

  7. Suze The Luxury Columnist says:

    Sounds like an amazing event to watch, and roping must require a lot of skill. You’ve got some great photos, Corinne. I think the closest I would get to rodeo is either Rodeo Drive or one of those mechanical bulls, I’d love to try one!

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