America's truly indigenous sport

The National Cowboy Museum holds the finest and most extensive collection of rodeo memorabilia in the nation, representing the sport from its early development through its golden age.

The rodeo arena is the ultimate forum for cowboy athletes. They compete in a series of events combining the skills of the working cowhand with the spectacle of the of the traditional Wild West show.

Saddle Bronc Riding
The classic contest of rodeos past and present evolved directly from the traditional horse-breaking tasks of the nineteenth-century cowboy. More than brute strength, this exciting judged event demanded flamboyant style and superb coordination on the part of the cowboy contestant, who had to stay atop a twelve-hundred-pound bucking horse for the duration of a specified qualifying time.

Before arena chutes were built, horses were blindfolded and saddled in the field. When the rider was ready, the horse was let loose on a bucking spree that could last several minutes.

Tie-Down Roping
Much like saddlebronc riding, tie-down roping is another rodeo sport born from the daily chores of the hard-working cowboy. When ranch hands became prideful of the speed in which they could rope a calf from a horse to brand or medicate, it soon became an informal competition. Not long after, tie-down roping gained popularity and grew into a major rodeo event.
Bareback Bronc Riding
Unlike saddle bronc riding and tie-down roping, bareback bronc riding wasn't derivative of the cowboy's work, but instead originate purely as a rodeo exhibition in the 1910s.

Bareback bronc riders were originally left with just the horse's mane or a loose rope to hold. In 1920, the event implemented leather handholds around the horse's withers.

This photo taken by rodeo photographer Ralph R. Doubleday at the Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1910 is believed to be the first picture of a cowboy flying off a horse.

Doubleday became a well-known name for documenting the rodeo's golden age. Thanks to cameras adopting faster shutter speeds, Doubleday was among the first sports action photographers in history.

This early and extremely rare rodeo trophy belt was awarded to bronc rider Harry Brennan, the “Champion Rough Rider of the World,” at the 1902 Festival of Mountain and Plain in Denver, Colorado.

In the early twentieth century, rodeo cowgirls were among the first women in the United States to achieve valid recognition as professional athletes.

One of the greatest female rodeo athletes of all time was Tad Barnes Lucas, who won the All-Around Champion Cowgirl six times and took permanent possession of the coveted MGM Trophy trophy in 1930.

Credits: Story

Come explore the West at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Exhibit produced by,
John Spencer, Director of Media & Content Production, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Grant Leatherwood, Manager of Media & Content Production, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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