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History of Rodeo

Some say that rodeo was born in 1869 when two groups of cowboys from neighboring ranches met in Deer Trail, Colo., to settle an argument over who was the best at performing everyday cowboy tasks, including breaking wild horses to ride for ranch work – a common cowboy task that evolved into rodeo’s saddle bronc riding event.

That informal gathering is considered by many to be the first rodeo – the beginning of a true American sport, based on the needs and customs of those who settled the great American West. Spanish-speaking cowboys, vaqueros, and the more recently arrived cowboys from the eastern part of the country contributed different skills and techniques to the cowboy toolbox. 

Breaking horses for their own use was just one part of a cowboy’s job. Capturing calves and full-grown cattle for branding, medical attention and sale required finely honed roping and riding skills on the sprawling, often inhospitable terrain of frontier ranches – skills that were tested and contested in events that led to today’s tie-down roping, team roping and steer roping.

Today’s professional rodeo cowboy is a bit different from his predecessor from the 1800s, although the traditional ideals of sportsmanship, showmanship and mentorship are still valued by today’s competitors. 

A cowboy’s standing in the sport of rodeo still depends on his skill with a rope or his ability to ride a bucking animal, his toughness in the face of setbacks, and his gratitude and humility about the success he achieves. His standing in the rodeo community still depends on his adherence to the cowboy code, which dictates that a man helps his fellow competitors even when they are competing for the same paycheck – many cowboys loan horses and equipment to even their closest competitors – and teach what they know to younger cowboys. 

Yet some aspects of rodeo have changed since those early days. Many professional cowboys travel in comfortable trucks or custom-made rigs, or they fly from one rodeo to another by commercial airline or charter plane. Marketing and business acumen have become as crucial as roping, wrestling or riding skills as contestants compete for more money than ever before. In 2008, 17-time World Champion Trevor Brazile was first to earn $3 million over his career, and in 2013 he crossed the $5 million threshold. Four more cowboys have hit the $3 million mark. 

Whether a PRCA member spends more than 200 days a year on the road in search of a berth in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo – the sport’s Super Bowl – or works another job during the week and competes in regional rodeos on the weekends, he is likely to take his wife and children along whenever possible, helping to keep the sport close to its family-oriented roots.

History Of The PRCA

Until the turn of the century, early rodeos were informal events – exhibition matches of skill, with nothing but pride and perhaps a few wagers at stake. But as audiences grew, promoters began to organize annual contests in specific locations as well as traveling Western shows. 

Rodeo organizations remained fragmented until the late 1920s, when the Rodeo Association of America, comprised of rodeo committees and promoters from across the U.S., named its first champions. 

The first true national cowboys’ organization emerged in 1936, when a group of cowboys and cowgirls left a performance at Madison Square Garden and boycotted the promoter’s next rodeo, in Boston Garden. They forced one of the biggest rodeo producers of the times, Col. W.T. Johnson, to listen to their demands for better prize money and judges who understood rodeo. Johnson gave in, under duress, and the Cowboys’ Turtle Association was born – a name they picked because they had been slow to act, but had finally stuck their necks out for their cause.

In 1945, the Turtles became the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA), which in 1975 evolved into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. The PRCA has experienced tremendous growth in terms of membership, national exposure, media coverage and sanctioned rodeos. Today, the PRCA boasts about 7,000 members (5,138 of whom are currently contestants) and sanctions approximately 600 rodeos a year. The PRCA headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., which includes the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy, opened in 1979. 

In 2013, $39.6 million was paid out in prize money at PRCA rodeos, a figure the Turtles might never have dreamed possible. In addition, ProRodeo is telecast to more than 50 million households. ProRodeo continues to bridge the traditions of the old West with the tools of the 21st century: Rodeo fans keep up to date with their favorite human and animal athletes by subscribing to the PRCA’s ProRodeo Sports News magazine and logging on to www.ProRodeo.com, and both the PSN and ProRodeo.com use the social networking site Facebook. 
 
 
 
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