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Bareback Riding

Photo by Richard Field Levine.

Photo by Richard Field Levine.  
Bareback riding offers a sensation about as enjoyable as riding a jackhammer, pogo stick-style, using only one hand. And that's the easy part. The bareback rider's real challenge is to look good while he's being punished. Bareback riding is the most physically demanding event in rodeo, its toll on the body is immense. Muscles are stretched to the limit, joints are pulled and pounded mercilessly, ligaments are strained and frequently rearranged. The strength of the broncs is exceptional and challenging them is often costly. Bareback riders endure more punishment, suffer more injuries and carry away more long-term damage than all other rodeo cowboys. To stay aboard the horse, a bareback rider uses a rigging made of leather and constructed to meet PRCA safety specifications. The rigging, which resembles a suitcase handle on a strap, is placed atop the horse's withers and secured with a cinch. As the bronc and rider burst from the chute, the rider has to "mark out" his horse. In other words, he must have both spurs above the horse's shoulders until the horse's feet hit the ground after its initial move from the chute. If the cowboy fails to do this, he is disqualified. As the bronc bucks, the rider pulls his knees up, dragging his spurs up the horse's shoulders. As the horse descends, the cowboy straightens his legs, returning his spurs over the point of the horse's shoulders in anticipation of the next jump. But it takes more than sheer strength to make a qualifying ride and earn a money-winning score. A bareback rider is judged on his spurring technique, the degree to which his toes remain turned out while he is spurring and his "exposure," or willingness to lean far back and take whatever might come during his ride.