What is Brondriding?
Bronc riding, either bareback bronc or saddle bronc competition, is a rodeo event that involves a rodeo participant riding a bucking horse that attempts to throw or buck off the rider. Originally based on the necessary horse breaking skills of a working cowboy, the event is now a highly stylized competition that utilizes horses that often are specially bred for strength, agility, and bucking ability. It is recognized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA).
Each competitor climbs onto a horse, which is held in a small pipe or wooden enclosure called a bucking chute. When the rider is ready, the gate of the bucking chute is opened and the horse bursts out and begins to buck. The rider attempts to stay on the horse for eight seconds without touching the horse with their free hand. On the first jump out of the chute, the rider must “mark the horse out”. This means they must have the heels of their boots in contact with the horse above the point of the shoulders before the horse’s front legs hit the ground. A rider that manages to complete a ride is scored on a scale of 0–50 and the horse is also scored on a scale of 0–50. Scores in the 80s are very good, and in the 90s are exceptional. A horse who bucks in a spectacular and effective manner will score more points than a horse who bucks in a straight line with no significant changes of direction.
Bareback bronc and saddle bronc styles are very different.
In saddle bronc, the rider uses a specialized saddle with free swinging stirrups and no horn. The saddle bronc rider grips a simple rein braided from cotton or polyester and is attached to a leather halter worn by the horse. The rider lifts on the rein and attempts to find a rhythm with the animal by spurring forwards and backwards with their feet in a sweeping motion from shoulder to flank.
The bareback rider does not use a saddle or rein but uses a rigging that consists of a leather and rawhide composite piece often compared to a suitcase handle attached to a surcingle and placed just behind the horse’s withers. The rider leans back and spurs with an up and down motion from the horse’s point of shoulder toward the rigging handle, spurring at each jump in rhythm with the motion of the horse.
The bucking horse is usually a gelding, a castrated male horse. Because bucking horses usually travel in close quarters and are housed in a herd setting, geldings are generally less disruptive and more prone to get along with one another. However, mares are also used, and while a mixed herd of mares and geldings is a bit more prone to disruptions, they can be kept together without great difficulties. Stallions are less common because they can be disruptive in a herd and may fight if there are mares present.
The modern bronc is not a truly feral horse. Most bucking stock are specifically bred for use in rodeos, with horses having exceptional bucking ability being purchased by stock contractors and fetching a high price. Most are allowed to grow up in a natural, semi-wild condition on the open range, but also have to be gentled and tamed in order to be managed from the ground, safely loaded into trailers, vaccinated and wormed, and loaded in and out of bucking chutes. They also are initially introduced to bucking work with cloth dummies attached to the saddle. Due to the rigours 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.
Why are there so few women Bronc Riders?
Six female cowgirls from around the country, as young as 17 years old, are taking the Texas rodeo circuit by storm as they lay the groundwork for women to begin competing again in Bronc riding – rodeo events traditionally dominated by men for the past 100 years.
Overcoming criticism and gaining respect and credibility, these women are getting as much out of bronc riding as they are giving back to the community. For a couple of the women, bronc riding saved their lives; for others, it gave them purpose; and for a few, bronc riding helped them understand who they are. However, all of the women agree that challenging themselves to ride broncs has impacted them in ways they would have never expected.
Cowgirls follow six female ranch bronc riders as they train and compete on the ranch bronc riding circuit in Texas. A sport that has been male-dominated since its inception and has a hundred-year history of preventing women from competing. Bronc riding requires holding on to a 1,200-pound bucking horse for 8 seconds.
This new series, which airs on RIDE TV, showcases these female trailblazers who are paving the way for more women to participate in bronc riding and continue to break down gender barriers and stereotypes. The six cowgirls throughout their journeys have overcome doubt from their male counterparts, criticism from those who have been in the industry for decades, and scepticism from younger generations. Staying true to their convictions and passion for bronc riding, these women and cowgirls are the reasons for the resurgence of female bronc riding in America.
For these women, bronc riding has provided the opportunity to break out of their comfort zones and take risks; it has rescued them during some of life’s toughest challenges, which for one cowgirl meant losing three best friends in a car wreck, and, for another, meant getting through the divorce of her parents. Bronc riding has given them purpose, confidence, and a certain audacity to face the bullying, criticism and nay-sayers in a male-dominated industry, which, in some cases, prevents women from competing in Bronc riding altogether.
As a direct result of gender discrimination, some of the cowgirls had to cross state lines to be introduced to rodeo and bronc riding – quite often because their home states either do not allow or do not encourage female bronc riding. Cowgirl, Jane Revercomb, who grew up in Virginia, for example, talks about travelling to Texas in order to compete, all the while struggling to shed the label of “city girl” and build credibility in the Texas rodeo world. Cowgirl, Rainey Gibbs wasn’t allowed to compete in Bronc riding for three years, because her home state of Kentucky didn’t like the idea of women participating in these kinds of events.
Cowgirls Duke Wimberly and Sarah Brown are Texas born and bred. Duke openly expresses her distaste for city-life, and preference for the heart of Texas, where you can ride all day long and never cross paths with another person. She is married to a six-time rodeo champion, and together they have an 18-month son who Duke describes as “double bred” for rodeo and bronc riding.
For Duke, and the rest of the cowgirls, the payoff of joining the bronc riding community has proven to be high so far. Sarah Brown describes being bullied for her interest in rodeo at a football-crazed Texan high school. She then transferred schools to compete on a high school rodeo team, and now, of course, she is a part of the cast.
Similarly, Brittany Miller recalls always wanting to feel a part of something bigger; she had belonged to various clubs and organizations growing up but never took to something fully, that is, until rodeo.
Billi Halverson, from North Dakota, participates in roller derby alongside riding broncs and describes both communities as a place for women who always wanted something a little different, something a little more. Cowgirls, then, is a story of community, competition, and sisterhood, as many of these women have overcome obstacles and difficult periods of time on their paths to riding broncs and to each other.
All of the women, regardless of rodeo or riding experience, started bronc riding later in life, often times after stints in barrel racing, roping, or other rodeo events. Brittany Miller is one of the more experienced bronc riders, having entered her first bronc competition about 4 years ago. The rest are just starting out, which many consider advantage as opposed to a disadvantage; a later start prevents the chance of burn-out, they say, and has given these women ample time to develop as well-rounded equestrians with strong foundational riding skills. Learning in the public eye and in front of viewers is decidedly difficult, but keep in mind these cowgirls willingly jump on bucking broncs, so not much phases them.
Women have celebrated competitors in bronc and bull riding events in the early decades of the 20th century until a female bronc rider died in a 1929 rodeo. Her death fuelled the growing opposition to female competitors in rodeo; their participation was severely curtailed thereafter. This tragedy escalated the growing opposition to women competing in Bronc riding events. Rodeo promoters began severely curtailing women’s competitive participation and encouraged them instead to serve as rodeo queens.
Together with the obvious dangers of the sport, women are discriminated against in Bronc riding. The men don’t make it easy for the women to compete saying they are physically inferior to men and they don’t have the bravery or physical strength. They continually harp on the deaths of women in the sport but don’t take into account the deaths of men too.
Comments are thrown around such as, “women must stay at home and raise kids”, “they must only ride horses for pleasure and not compete”, “they must rather compete in Trail riding or Western dressage or Barrel racing or gymkhana” “they are really putting themselves at risk of serious injuries and death”, “no amount of money or fame should encourage women in the sport”.
There is also the controversy about injuring the horses as seen below, women are more sensitive to the plight of the horse or bull. Some unfair practices have been going on, ruining the sport for the cowgirl. They don’t want to be a part of animal cruelty.
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