Although rodeos feature various breeds of horses, the overwhelming majority of equines participating in rodeo events are American quarter horses. Even if a rodeo horse isn't a registered quarter horse, he's likely to be a quarter horse type. That means he's stocky, compact and generally less than 16 hands tall.
Rodeo equestrian events include bareback and saddle bronc riding, in which a cowboy must stay atop a bucking horse for at least eight seconds, using just one hand to position himself. The horse counts for half of the score, so strenuous bucking is required. Women compete in barrel racing, a timed event in which riders complete a clover-leaf pattern around barrels set up in the arena. Steer wrestling, tie-down roping and team roping all involve horses and cattle.
Quarter Horse Lines
In the quarter horse breed, certain types and bloodlines dominate different activities. Those horses used for steer wrestling and team roping tend to be larger and more muscled than the average quarter horse, requiring both speed and stamina. Barrel racing horses often come from quarter horse racing lines, or were themselves former racehorses. These horses are somewhat lighter and faster than the traditional working quarter horse.
Besides quarter horses, other typically Western breeds are found competing at the rodeo. These include the Appaloosa, paint, palomino and mustang. There's at least one all-thoroughbred ranch rodeo team in the country, according to the MidAtlantic Thoroughbred website. More common are so-called "appendix" quarter horses, those with one thoroughbred parent. While Morgans, Arabians and other breeds might occasionally compete, there's no question that the quarter horse rules the rodeo.
An integral part of rodeo, bucking horses, or broncs, aren't a specific breed. However, these aren't random contrary equines who refuse to allow people on their backs. Today, rodeo contractors breed specifically for bucking lines. As the American Bucking Horse Registry website puts it, they breed for "strength, agility, and bucking ability." Many of the sport's top bucking horses are quarter horses or have quarter horse blood. Top bucking horses might work into their 20s, although stallions and mares usually retire earlier to produce more buckers.
- National Cowboy Museum: Horses That Buck
- American Bucking Horse Registry: History in Action
- Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: Horse Show
- American Association of Equine Practitioners: The Western Performance Horse -- How to Select the Right One for the Job
- Tucson Rodeo: Tucson Rodeo Events
- MidAtlantic Thoroughbred: Cowboys, Cowgirls, Cattle, and Thoroughbreds to Cut Loose at Pimlico
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.