Saddle and Bareback riding are one of my favorite parts of the rodeo to watch and photograph. The horses are so majestic and larger than life. As you can see here they are really chilled out before the rodeo starts.
Once the horses are run into the bucking shoots, they know that it is time to do their jobs. The cowboy puts his rigging on. For bareback riding, the cowboy/cowgirls place the rigging on the horses withers and it is secured with a girth. The handle that you see below is the only thing the rider has to hang on with. The rider is protected with heavy leather chaps and a safety vest.
The strap that you see behind the rider is a flank strap that is placed there to help the horse buck to its full potential. A lot of people think this is to hurt the horse, but bucking for a horse is a natural part of its life. Even horses that are broke to ride will buck when first mounted.
Once the horse is ready to buck the rider has to keep their spurs against the horse until their first move out of the bucking shoot and this is called "marking out". If the rider does not keep contact with the horse they will be disqualified.
Once their first move has been made, the rider will continue to place his spurs on the horse's shoulder and roll their spurs up the shoulder as the horse bucks.
Once the rider makes the 8 second ride, the pick up guys are their to help the rider off and to release the flank strap off of the horse.
The pick up guys have one of the hardest jobs in the rodeo. While the broncs are running and bucking they are trying to safely grab the rider and get the horse safely back behind the pen.
Another bareback rider coming out of the shoot and "marking out". The strength and durability that these athletes show is amazing. Their bodies are twisted and thrown around in all different directions.
Another example of how the pick up guys team up and one will help the rider dismount as the other comes in to help remove the flank strap.
Saddle bronc riders compete the same as bareback riders except they have a rope connected to the halter and ride in a saddle instead of bareback.
The saddle bronc rider also has to "mark out" coming out of the bucking shoot. Once the horse has made it's first move out of the shoot, the ride is only holding on with a rope. They must continue to spur in the same manner with out loosing a stirrup. If a rider looses a stirrup or touches the horse they will be disqualified.
Once the rider makes the 8 seconds the pick up guys will come in again and help the rider off as well as removing the flank strap and the saddle.
Here you can see the first thing the pick up guys do after getting the rider off safely is to remove the flank strap so the horse doesn't continue to buck.
There is a lot that goes into making an event like this happen. You have the riders who have trained for years, the horses who are bread to buck, the stock contractors hauling the horses from event to event, and the pick up riders who have nerves and horses to help them keep the riders safe.
Rodeo is an exciting sport and a lot more is involved than just sitting on the horse. The riders risk their lives to do what they love to keep the tradition of rodeo alive.