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Rodeos are an iconic part of western cowboy culture. Dude ranch vacations offer the perfect opportunity to see an authentic western rodeo, whether it’s a local off-ranch rodeo, a national event or even a take-part rodeo on the dude ranch. Never been to a rodeo before and want to know your broncs from your barrels before you get there? Then you need Top50’s definitive guide to the sport of rodeo…


Rodeos date back to the early 19th Century and are based on the on the tasks required by cattle ranching, testing the skills of working vaqueros and later, cowboys, in what today is the western United States, western Canada, and northern Mexico.

Main events

Calf RopingAlso called Tie-down roping, calf roping is a rodeo event based on ranch work in which calves are roped for branding, medical treatment, or other purposes. The cowboy ropes a running calf around the neck with a lariat, and his horse stops and sets back on the rope while the cowboy dismounts, runs to the calf and ties three feet together. A well-trained calf-roping horse will slowly back up while the cowboy ties the calf, to help keep the lariat snug.

Team RopingAlso called "heading and heeling", this rodeo event involves capturing and restraining a full-grown steer. One horse and rider (the header) lassos a running steer's horns, while the other horse and rider (the heeler) lassos the steer's two hind legs. The riders then face each other and lightly pull the steer between them, so that it loses its balance and lies down.

Steer wrestlingAlso known as "Bulldogging", this rodeo event sees the rider jumps off his horse and 'wrestling' a steer to the ground. Arguably the most physically dangerous event in rodeo for the cowboy, who not only has to jump off a running horse at speed, but runs the risk of having the steer land on top of him – horns first!

Steer wrestling

Bronc ridingBareback bronc-riding involves the rider hanging onto a bucking horse with a type of surcingle called a "rigging"; in saddle bronc-riding, the rider uses a specialized western saddle and hangs onto a heavy lead rope attached to the horse’s halter. This is a timed event, the winning rider being the one who stays on for as long as possible – usually only a matter of seconds.

Bull ridingThis popular rodeo event sees cowboys ride full-grown bulls instead of horses! Not at all like bronc horses, bulls are unpredictable and may attack a fallen rider – rodeo clowns, or "bullfighters”, work to distract the bulls and help prevent injury to the fallen cowboys.

Bull riding

Barrel racingA rodeo event primarily for women, in which horses and riders individually complete a clover-leaf pattern around three pre-set barrels placed in a triangle in the center of an arena, against the clock. This fast and furious race combines the horse's athletic ability and the rider’s horsemanship skills – competitors mustn’t knock the barrels over while riding tight turns around them at speed.

Variety acts, which may include musicians, trick riders or other entertainment, often occur halfway through the rodeo at intermission. Novelty events such as "mutton busting” – like bronc riding for small children, but on sheep! – are always popular with crowds. Some events even include events open to the general public – such as wild cow milking for adults – most of which carry a high risk of injury for untrained competitors.

Have a go!

Want to watch or have a go at some rodeo events? Check out the following dude ranch vacations…

Alisal Ranch, CaliforniaAverill’s Flathead Lake Lodge, MontanaBadger Creek Ranch, ColoradoBar W Guest Ranch, Montana Brush Creek Ranch, WyomingLazy L&B Ranch, WyomingLone Mountain Ranch, MontanaMajestic Dude Ranch, ColoradoSiwash Lake Ranch, BC, CanadaSugar and Spice Ranch, Texas and WyomingTod Mountain Ranch, BC, Canada

We especially recommend Estancia Los Potreros in Cordoba, Argentina, which is a great ranch to stay at if you want to visit the nearby Argentine National Rodeo Championships, which are held every January in Cordoba.

Remember, it’s always worth asking your chosen dude ranch on booking whether there are any local rodeos or even pro rodeos nearby. Many dude ranches even provide shuttles to and from the rodeos.

For more information on incorporating rodeos into your dude ranch vacation, visit

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