Bronc riding an exhilarating, rough-and-tumble rodeo competition where the best and bravest cowboys face off as over 1,000 pounds of pure muscle attempts to throw them off. Bronc riding can be divided into two divisions: saddle bronc and bareback bronc. In both events, the horses violently buck as the cowboy attempts to stay on. Bronc riding has its roots in the cowboys that needed to tame the wild horses brought to the ranch.


Back in the days of Westward expansion across the United States, ranch hands often had the difficult task of breaking new horses. Many horses were found in the wild and brought in to work on the ranch. These horses were wild, spirited and unwilling to take riders. What began as a necessity evolved into a sport as the competitive ranch hands would test who could stay on the wild horse the longest as it bucked wildly.

The largest ranches sent ranch hands to compete against hands from neighboring ranchers. Some of these first tournaments were held in the state of Nevada, where the Silver State Stampede Rodeo held its first official competition in 1913. During these rodeos, rules were developed and implemented, as well as both the saddle style and the bareback style of bronc riding.

Saddle Bronc Vs Bareback Bronc

In saddle bronc, the bronco is fitted with a specific saddle designed for bronc riding. The saddle is similar to a traditional western saddle, but the horn is removed for safety. The saddle will have a rein attached to the halter. The rider holds on to this rein with one hand only. The other hand cannot touch reins. The stirrups are loose swinging. The rider is required to spur the horse.

Saddle bronc riding is more fluid and less wild than bareback bronc riding. In the saddle bronc riding, the rider tries to move with the movements of the horse. Saddle broncos are generally heavier than bareback broncos by a few hundred pounds and their bucking is a bit slower. Saddle bronc riders attempt to find the rhythm of the bucking and match it with the spurring motion.

Saddle bronc riding also differs slightly from bareback in the scoring. While the basic scoring structure is the same, saddle bronc riders can be disqualified. If the rider loses a stirrup or drops the rein, the rider is eliminated. Additionally, the rider must maintain one hand on the rein but the other in the air. If the rider puts that hand on his own body or on the horse, he is disqualified.

In both saddle bronc riding and bareback bronc riding, the rider is required to mark out at the outset of the race. In order to properly mark out, the rider must lift both his feet up in order to have the spurs touch the shoulders of the horse in the moments up to the point in which the horse’s feet touch the ground.

Bareback bronc riding is generally a more wild ride than saddle bronc riding. In general, bareback bronc riding is considered the most physically challenging and toughest sport in rodeo. Because there is no saddle in bareback riding, the rider holds on a piece of rigging. Rigging used in bareback bronc riding is specifically regulated for safety. The rigging rests on the withers of the horse. Rigging is essentially a leather strap with a handle. In the spurring motion, riders are required to continuously spur the bronco from its shoulder to the rigging.


Bronc riding lasts for a total run of 8 seconds, assuming the rider is not thrown from the horse. The rider and the horse are scored on a scale of 0 to 50 points. Once the points are added together, the cowboy with the highest amount of points is determined to be the winner.

The riders are scored based upon their general control of the horse. In saddle bronc riding, the control and movements should seem to be somewhat synchronized. The riders are also judged based on the spurring technique; if a rider is hardly spurring the horse, a high score will not be awarded.

In order to equalize the completely unpredictable factor of the bucking bronco, the horse is also scored. This makes the scoring system more fair for cowboys who have an easier ride than others. The horse is scored upon its ability to buck, and the wildness of that bucking. If the horse bucks in several different directions, a higher score is awarded because it is far more difficult for the rider to stay on. The horse is also scored on speed, agility and overall performance. Typically, a cumulative score of 80 or above is considered quite good while a score above 90 is rare and very impressive.

Bronc Horses

While bronc horses were originally wild and untamed horses back in the days of the old West, most broncos are no longer true wild horses. Over time, breeders have bred lines of horses who excel at bucking and seem to enjoy riding wildly. Unlike other horse sports, in which horses compete at a young age, most bucking horses do not enter the professional arena until age six.

Broncos generally live wild lifestyles. Owners attempt to give them freedom and keep their spirits high. Not all horses have a tendency to buck, or at least to buck quite so wildly. Horses that naturally buck are selected for rodeos, and those that do not move on to other disciplines or domesticated life. Most broncos are bred with the bucking tendency. Sometimes, a horse that is bred for other disciplines instead refuses to be tamed. For those horses, some make it to the rodeo, where they are encouraged to buck as wildly as they want.

Controversy and Tradition

As with many equestrian disciplines, there is a bit of backlash from animal rights activists. Rodeo cowboys maintain the strong opinion, however, that bucking broncos enjoy bucking and that bronc competitions give them ability to behave how they want to with freedom. Some activists maintain that flank straps are harmful to rodeo broncs. Rodeos have strict regulations regarding the flank strap. The cowboys maintain the belief that if a horse is in pain, it will not buck, but will rather attempt to bolt. The flank strap is used in rodeo to direct the bucking to be straight and back. Some places have outlawed the use of the flank strap under the belief that it is cruel.

Bucking broncos are one of the most categorically rodeo events. Many people think of the brave cowboys waving one hand free and beating their own bodies to attempt to hold tight to the wild horse when they think of the rodeo. Bronc riding is a sport that involves a brave rider and a spirited horse. It is the most exciting picture of the wild spirit and incredible strength of an untamed horse. The riders respect the strength and incredible spirit of the horses in their attempts to ride. For many cowboys, bronc riding leads to countless injuries and chronic pain, but for these tough cowboys, it is a sacrifice worth making for the wild and freeing experience of pure bronc riding.

Veterinary Surgeon, London at Blue Cross UK | + posts

A London based Veterinary surgeon, Sanja is also an avid writer and pet advocate.