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Home > Events > What is Rodeo? > Saddle Bronc Riding

Saddle Bronc Riding

Photo Credit: Fernando Sam-Sin 

Many cowboys claim riding ‘saddle broncs’ is the toughest rodeo event to master. Known as rodeo’s classic event, it takes us back to the heritage of how rodeos began. Saddle bronc riding evolved from the task of breaking and training horses to work the cattle ranches of the Old West.

It requires strength, style, grace, and precise timing.


Saddle bronc riding is judged similarly to bareback riding. However, there are more ways to get disqualified: losing a stirrup or dropping the thickly braided rein that is attached to the horse’s halter are two of them.

The cowboy sits on the horse differently due to the saddle and rein, and the spurring motion covers a different area of the horse. Saddle broncs are usually several hundred pounds heavier than bareback horses and generally buck in a slower manner. Because of this, every move the bronc rider makes must be synchronized with the movement of the horse. The cowboy's objective is a fluid ride, somewhat in contrast to the wilder and less-controlled rides of bareback riders.

Getting out of the chute requires technical skills and timing as well. In order to properly mark out his horse, the saddle bronc rider must have both heels touching the animal above the point of its shoulders when it makes its first jump from the chute. If the rider misses his mark, he receives no score.

While a bareback rider has a rigging to hold onto, the saddle bronc rider has only a thick rein attached to his horse's halter. Using one hand, the cowboy tries to stay securely seated in his saddle. If he touches any part of the horse or his own body with his free hand, he is disqualified.

Judges score the horse's bucking action, the cowboy's control of the horse, and the cowboy's spurring action.

While striving to keep his toes turned outward, the rider spurs from the points of the horse's shoulders to the back of the saddle. To score well, the rider must maintain that action throughout the eight-second ride. The key here is the rhythm between the cowboy and his horse.

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