By: Staff  Date: 01/16/2012 Category: | Animals in Education & Entertainment | Farm and Ranch Almanac |

As with any other industry or sport that utilizes animals, the sport of rodeo must continually educate the public about the care and handling of the livestock used in rodeos. Critics of rodeo often show many areas where they do not understand the sport of rodeo and the livestock involved, but the bucking horse seems to be the most misunderstood animal in rodeo.

“How do you make them buck?”

In rodeo, we don’t make horses buck, we utilize horses that already have an inclination to buck. To understand this statement, it is important to know the origin of bucking horses. Approximately 40 percent of rodeo bucking horses are in the sport because they have continued to buck their owners and riders off. They come from the racetrack, feed lots, ranches and just about every other equine discipline. These horses are considered too dangerous for other equine activities, yet they are perfect for the events of bareback riding and saddle bronc riding. Stock contractors, the owners of rodeo livestock, continuously get phone calls from anxious owners who cannot seem to train the buck out of a horse, but want to insure the horse receives a good home.

Another way bucking horses make their way into professional rodeo events is that they are bred specifically to buck.

Just as there are two ways a horse makes its way into rodeo, there are two types of bucking horses. The type of horse used for bareback riding varies from the type used in the saddle bronc-riding event. Bareback horses are smaller animals with a wilder bucking style while saddle bronc horses are generally larger with a more classic style of bucking that allows the rider to sit up in the saddle and get a rhythm with his feet forward from the horse’s neck and back to the cantle of the saddle. Many saddle bronc horses are draft horse crosses, these large sturdy animals have the perfect classic bucking action as well as the strength and durability that make them excellent athletes for long-term careers in the sport of rodeo.

Classic Velvet is the perfect example of the horses that have come to rodeo because they bucked. A registered Quarter Horse and grandson of a running Quarter Horse named Three Bars, Classic Velvet was originally bred as a team roping horse in Santa Rosa, California. After a time it was determined that he bucked too much for that task and he was sold to Calvin Milhous, a cousin of Richard Nixon’s. Milhous tried in vain to train the horse to drive (pull a cart) and finally gave up. Cotton Rosser, a famed California stock contractor, was called to try the horse as a bucking horse and knew almost immediately he would be a star. The great gelding bucked for 17 years in the PRCA and was named the “Bareback Bucking Horse of the Year in 1981.” At the age of 24 he was retired to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. Healthy, with barely a scratch on him and completely sound, Classic Velvet spent three years at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs before finally retiring to Larry Mahan’s picturesque ranch in Guffey, Colorado, where he lived out his days in a pasture with other retired rodeo stock. Khadafy Skoal, a champion bucking horse from Hank Franzen’s Wyoming Ranch, is another registered Quarter Horse that had better characteristics for a bucking horse than a saddle horse. After bucking off one too many ranch hands on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, Khadafy was sold to Franzen and has racked up the awards for his bucking talent since.

Breeding for bucking

Many of today’s rodeo stock providers have developed sophisticated breeding programs to allow them to breed horses specifically to buck. Of the 60 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association stock contractors, about 40 operate some type of livestock breeding program. Some of the finest bucking horses in the world of professional rodeo today are products of these “Born to Buck” programs. Ike Sankey of Sankey Rodeo Company, a former national finals bareback and saddle bronc rider, ventured into the rodeo livestock breeding business in the mid-1980’s with a mission to prove that horses can be born buckers.

“Race horse people for years have spent untold dollars trying to raise race horses,” Sankey said. “I think for a long time people went the other way trying to breed the buck out of them, and I think they were pretty successful. We’re just trying to go the other way and breed it back into them.”

A big part of Sankey’s effort can be linked to Custer, a great bucking horse stud. Sankey said Custer was a solid, middle of the road horse that always bucked but was never sensational. Because he was not a spectacular bucking horse, no one knows why his colts are so much better than others. However, with Custer as the foundation sire, Sankey claims that 85 percent of the colts born into his breeding program grow up to become successful bucking horses. Nowhere was this more evident that at the 1996 National Finals Rodeo where Sankey’s 17 selected horses included 15 from his carefully planned breeding program and nearly 30 of the bucking horses competing at that national were sons, daughters, grandsons or granddaughters of Custer. At the 1997 finals, Sankey hauled 19 broncs to Las Vegas from his ranch in Cody, Wyoming.

Custer’s bloodlines don’t only run through the Sankey string, but they are strong throughout rodeo. Among his famous progeny are Bobby Joe Skoal, a daughter owned by legendary stock contractor Harry Vold, who was 1991-93 PRCA Saddle Bronc of the Year, and Skitso Skoal, a granddaughter who was 1994 Saddle Bronc of the Year.

One of the best indicators of the suitability of horses to the sport of rodeo is their longevity of life and career. High Tide, a legendary bucking horse, bucked off a 19-year old-cowboy at the national finals when he was 32 years old. Sippin Velvet, a descendent of Man O’ War, bucked at the National Finals Rodeo 18 times and was retired to a standing ovation during the 1994 National Finals Rodeo at he age of 25. The Calgary Stampede Rodeo Company, one of the oldest breeding programs in rodeo, include many older horses in their list of top bucking horses. A few of these older champion broncs currently bucking include: 21-year-old Go Wild, 21-year-old Kloud Grey, and 24-year- old Guilty Cat.

Spurs, straps, and horse welfare

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association takes the welfare of all animals used in PRCA sanctioned events seriously, and the bucking horses are no exception.

Many questions often arise about the equipment used on bucking horses. Riders in both the saddle bronc and bareback riding use spurs while riding. All spurs used in these events must be dulled and the rowels (the wheel-type devices on the end of the spur) must be able to roll along the animal’s thick hide; no locked rowels are allowed. Riders are disqualified if their spurs are too sharp of if the animal is injured in any way due to the rider’s actions.

The flank strap is used in bucking events to encourage a bucking horse to kick higher. The flank strap must be lined by fleece or neoprene and placed loosely around the flank area of the horse, just in front of the back legs. To pull a flank strap tightly would restrict or stop the motion of the animals, quite the opposite of what is asked of rodeo bucking horses. Horse flank straps are equipped with a quick release mechanism that allows the rodeo pickup men to release the strap when the ride concludes. Veterinarians familiar with rodeo events and equipment have testified that the flank strap does not injure or cause pain to the animal.

Overall, the animal welfare program employed by the PRCA is extensive. More than 60 rules are in place to govern the care and handling of livestock at PRCA rodeos. Professional judges enforce these rules and inspect all livestock before a competition; if any animal is not healthy and fit, that animal will not compete. PRCA rules also require a veterinarian on-site. These on-site, independent veterinarians are allowed by PRCA to conduct surveys to calculate the percentage of the rate of injury to livestock competing at PRCA rodeos. The latest survey was conducted at 57 rodeos during the 2000 PRCA rodeo season. Out of 71,743 animal exposures, 38 injuries occurred. This calculates to a rate of injury of .00052, or five-hundredths of one percent.

As the sport of rodeo continues to grow in popularity, the care of the livestock involved will be under greater scrutiny. The PRCA and other rodeo associations will continue to make the welfare of all rodeo livestock an important part of the rodeo industry.

photo credit: Bronc Riding via photopin (license)

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