Some accusations of rodeo cruelty are based on misunderstanding. For example, it is a myth that a bucking horse is a wild, terrified animal. The modern bronc is not a truly feral horse. A significant number of bucking horses are riding horses that learn to buck off their riders. Many bucking horses today are specifically bred for use in rodeos. A proven bucking horse can be sold for $8,000 to $10,000, making “rough stock” a valuable investment worth caring for and keeping in good health for many years. Likewise, bucking bulls are selectively bred. Most are allowed to grow up in a natural, semi-wild condition on the open range, but also have to be trained in order to be managed from the ground, safely loaded into trailers, vaccinated and wormed, and then be loaded in and out of bucking chutes.
Young bucking horses are initially introduced to work with cloth dummies attached to the saddle. Others are already well-trained on the ground. Some champion bucking horses get their start as spoiled riding horses that learn to quickly and effectively unseat riders. Due to the rigors of travel and the short bursts of high intensity work required, most horses in a bucking string are at least 6 or 7 years old before they are used extensively, and are expected to be sound performers for many years. Awards are given to the owners of the best bucking horses that are respected as equine athletes and perform for many years. Many are retired to pasture at the end of their careers. Most bucking horses understand their job well and reduce or stop their bucking, even while still wearing a flank strap, as soon as they either unseat the rider or hear the buzzer. Likewise, some bulls appear to understand that their “job” is to throw the rider; they learned not to buck when in the chute and buck far less once the rider is thrown.
There are two divisions in rodeo: bareback bronc riding, where the rider is only allowed to hang onto a bucking horse with a type of surcingle called a “rigging”; and saddle bronc riding, where the rider uses a specialized western saddle without a horn (for safety) and hangs onto a heavy lead rope, called a bronc rein, which is attached to a halter on the horse.
In this event, cowboys ride full-grown bulls instead of horses. Although skills and equipment similar to those needed for bareback bronc riding are required, the event differs considerably from horse riding competition due to the danger involved. Because bulls are unpredictable and may attack a fallen rider, rodeo clowns–now known as “bullfighters”–work during bull-riding competitions to distract the bulls and help prevent injury to the competitors.