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Photo: Andrew Hennell

Bareback riding is a rodeo event where the cowboy must stay on the horse for 8 seconds.  There is no saddle, stirrups or even a rein.

To stay aboard the horse, the bareback rider uses a rigging made of leather and rawhide. The rigging, which resembles a suitcase handle on a strap, is placed over the horse’s withers and secured with a girth.  The bareback rider must grip the handle of his rigging, whilst he keeps his free hand up in the air. His free hand must not touch the horse at any time.

Bareback riding is possibly the most physically demanding event in rodeo, taking an immense toll on the cowboy’s body. Bareback riders suffer more injuries and carry away more long-term damage than all other rodeo cowboys.


The cowboy must remain on the horse for a full 8 seconds during which time he will be judged  on his form, the amount of control and how well the bronc bucks. Judges look for the turnout of the toes, the proficiency of the spurring motion, how difficult the horse is to ride and the extent to which the cowboy is in control. Two judges in the arena score from 1-25 points each for the horse and the rider, for a total of 100 points.

Bareback riders must mark out their horse as it comes out of the chute. To properly mark out, the bareback rider must have both heels touching the horse above the point of its shoulders when the horse’s feet first hit the ground as it jumps from the chute. If the rider misses his mark, he is disqualified.

Ideally on each buck, the rider pulls his knees up, rolling his spurs up the horse’s shoulders. As the horse descends, the cowboy straightens his legs as far as possible, returning his spurs over the point of the horse’s shoulders in anticipation of the next jump. The rider fails to score if he is bucked off before the 8 second horn sounds.  He is also disqualified for failing to mark out and touching the horse anywhere with his free hand.