Rodeo terms, traditions, and superstitions

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Like many rodeo participants, saddle bronc driver Chet Johnson grew up around the arena. The Wyoming native began riding competitively in high school before turning pro at age 19.

Now a veteran of the sport, Johnson has shaken off all the superstitions that followed him as a young gun. Well, almost.

“Growing up, I never wanted to eat chicken before I rode,” the 39-year-old said, “because you are what you eat.”

Johnson isn’t alone. Many of the cowboys and cowgirls participating in Denver’s National Western Stock Show and Rodeo have superstitions. Up and coming bull rider Brody Yeary, for example, is also adverse to eating white meat before a competition.

“You eat chicken, you ride like a chicken,” said Yeary, 22.

Sabra O’Quinn, 52, specializes in barrel racing and said she doesn’t have any superstitions. But she does have a good luck charm: her dependable horse, Bring It On Guys.

The stock show runs through Jan. 26 with rodeo performances every night, concluding with the Pro Rodeo Finals on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 26, at the Denver Coliseum. Before you saddle up for a good time, get to know the basic rules and lingo of the sport.

AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post

Josh Frost does jumping jacks before his ride during PBR Denver Chute Out at the National Western Stock Show on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

Rodeo basics

According to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, roots of the modern day rodeo trace back to 1800s California, where the Spanish settled and became cattle ranchers. Vaqueros eventually passed down their traditions to American cowboys, who took Wild West-style shows cross-country to entertain audiences.

Today, the rodeo is comprised of seven events that are either timed or scored for style and technique:

  • Steer wrestling, which requires a rider to slide off horseback onto a steer, grab it by the horns and wrestle it to the ground;
  • Tie-down roping, in which a rider lassos a calf and ties its feet together;
  • Team roping, the only multi-rider event that requires a choreographed effort to lasso different parts of a steer;
  • Barrel racing, which times riders as they drive their horses in a pattern around three barrels;
  • Bareback riding, in which an athlete rides a bucking horse sans saddle for eight seconds with one hand on the animal and one hand in the air;
  • Saddle bronc riding, which is like bareback riding, but with a modified saddle; and
  • Bull riding, which is like bronc riding, except on a bucking bull.

Rodeo horses, bulls and steers are bred for sport, and they might have the best jobs on the ranch — these animals spend less than two minutes performing in the arena per year, said Susan Kanode, media coordinator for national rodeos.

“The amount of care those animals get, they get spoiled,” said Johnson. “They don’t have to work that hard throughout the year, they get fed well. Their biggest chore is the travel.”