Rodeo Terms Explained: Terminology & Slang

Rodeo consist of seven separate, complex and unique events. Each event has its own rules and its own terminology. For this reason, the sport of rodeo as a whole is a rich source of interesting language and slang.

When you go to a rodeo, if you’re not hip to this jive, you may have a hard time understanding what’s going on!

In this article, we clue you in on thirty examples of popular rodeo slang, terminology and terms you can use so that people won’t think it’s your first rodeo! Read on to learn more.

Rodeo Terms

rodeo slang

1. Judges

These are the officials who ensure that all of the rodeo contestants follow the rules. It is the judges’ duty to:

  • Make sure that the facilities are in safe condition throughout the events
  • Determine the length of time allowed in timed events
  • Calculate the scores in roughstock events
  • Keep track of penalties

2. Penalty

Infractions of the rules in timed events often incur a ten second penalty.

3. Cowboy Nod

The cowboy gives the judge a nod to open the gate of the chute or to start the clock.

4. Bullfighter

This person is tasked with distracting a bull after it has bucked off a rider, thus protecting the rider while he makes his getaway (or in some instances is carried away). Bullfighters are often comically dressing as clowns or hobos, but make no mistake! They are very athletic and fit.

5. Stock Contractors

The purveyors of horses, bulls, steers and calves used in roughstock and roping events and subsequently sent to slaughter.

6. Bronc/Bronco

A horse who has not been tamed. This term is usually used to refer to horses in a bucking horse event.

7. Roughstock

Bucking broncos and bulls.

8. Roughstock Events

Those events involving bucking broncos or bucking bulls.

9. Spurs

Metal implements that are affixed to a rider’s boot heels and used to goad animals forward or into bucking.

10. Bucking

Kicking and jumping. A bronco or a bull will buck in an attempt to unseat a rider.

11. Flank Strap

The strap that is placed around bucking bulls’ and broncos’ flanks to force them to buck.

12. Free Hand

A bull rider must maintain a free hand throughout his ride. It cannot touch the rope or the animal, or the rider will be disqualified.

13. Hung Up

If a bucking bull or bronco rider is unable to disengage his hand from the handle or rope before dismounting or being thrown, he is said to be hung up.

14. Mark Out/Miss Out

When riding a bucking bronco, the cowboy’s feet have to be higher than the horse’s shoulders at the time that the horse’s front feet make contact with the ground. If this is the case, it is called a “mark out”. If the cowboy’s feet are below the horse’s shoulders at this point, it is called a “miss out”.

15. No Score

In roughstock events, if the rider is unable to remain seated for eight seconds, he gets no score. This term is also used if a roper misses the steer or calf.

16. Pickup Men

A pair of cowboy assistants who facilitate roughstock events.

17. Re-ride

If the bucking bronco or bull cannot be goaded into bucking, the cowboy will be given the opportunity to do a re-ride on a different animal.

18. Rigging Or Riggin‘

A handle used in roughstock events that has been specifically designed to work with the rider’s grip.

19. Average

This refers to the average or aggregate of a contestant’s overall scores.

20. Draw

Competitors are assigned steers, calves, bucking bulls and broncos by the luck of the draw, randomly before the event. In the case of roughstock the drawing is held three days prior to the event. In the case of calves and steers to be roped or wrestled, the drawing is held just before the event.

21. Go Around/Go ’round

Some rodeos will have more than a single round of competition. Each round is called a go-round or go around.

22. Hazer

The hazer keeps the steer running straight during a steer wrestling event.

23. Header & Heeler

These are the two members of a roping team. The header ropes the steer’s horns. The heeler ropes the hind legs.

24. Chaps

This garment made of leather protects the legs while riding, or in some cases while performing farrier tasks.

25. Chute

This is a small pen located at the side of the arena were calves, steers, bulls and broncos are held just prior to their events.

26. Box

Not an actual box, rather it is the area that a rider backs his horse into just prior to a run in a timed steer wrestling or roping event.

27. Bulldogging

Wrestling a steer.

28. Cloverleaf Pattern

The barrel racing pattern.

29. Tipping A Barrel

In a barrel race, if the rider touches the barrel, they are given a five second penalty. If they are able to prevent the barrel from falling over, the penalty is withheld.

30. Rookie

A new or first-time barrel racing competitor.

31. Roping Dummy

Roping dummy is a wooden or metal shape resembling cattle that is often used to practise roping.

Frequently Asked Questions

rodeo terms explained Frequently Asked Questions
1. What does a cowboy mean when he says someone “gave it a lick and a promise”?

This is an old west term for doing something halfway or in a haphazard manner.

2. Is a “hog-killing time” a bad thing?

On the contrary! A hog-killing time is a good time. This is a way to describe a really good rodeo, carnival, dance or similar social event.

3. Why do some old west sayings use such unlikely comparisons?

Colorful comparisons, such as “I’m grinning like a donkey eating cactus” or “I’m happier than a dog with two tails” bring funny, clear images to mind. Don’t try making up your own until you’re really part of the rodeo crowd though. Be extra careful if English is your second language!

4. What are you doing if you’re “barking at a knot”?

This is an old-timey term for wasting time or doing something that’s meaningless or useless.

5. What is a Judas Steer?

In the old cattle drive days, the cowboys would watch the steers in the herd to see which ones acted as leaders. The steer that the cattle were most likely to follow was termed the “Judas Steer”. This was the steer that the other cattle would follow into the slaughter house or yard. Sometimes this steer would be kept and used as the Judas Steer again and again.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Horses & Foals

6022 S Drexel Ave
Chicago, IL 60637

Amazon Disclaimer

Horses & Foals is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


Horses & Foals do not intend to provide veterinary advice. We try to help users better understand their horses; however, the content on this blog is not a substitute for veterinary guidance. For more information, please read our PRIVACY POLICY.