What Cowboys Earn Riding the Rodeo Circuit

Rider on bucking bronco
Margo Harrison / Shutterstock.com

These days, there aren’t that many folks who still ride the fences for a living. But if you drive across the American West, you will come across plenty of rodeos where cowboys showcase their riding and roping skills and demonstrate that they are generally tough hombres.

When the dust settles on these events, there’s usually some cash for the winners of individual events and all-around cowboy. Competitors who rise to the top of national and international competitions can gallop off with upward of $1 million.

But it’s a long and risky road to riches. Amateur rodeo participants typically earn in the $10,000-$15,000 range annually, according to Cowboy Lifestyle Network.

In between the rags and the riches, there’s the steep cost of participating. The Idaho Press-Tribune reported that for a competitive cowboy — hitting, say, 75 to 100 rodeos in a year — earnings may barely cover fuel for the truck and entry fees, never mind travel expenses and the care and keeping of a horse.

If you can survive the cost — and deal with the risk of broken ribs, concussions and getting trampled by a 1-ton beast — then all you need to make a living this way is to master some of the following skills.

Bareback bronc riding

Bareback rider at rodeo
Lincoln Rogers / Shutterstock.com

To boil it down, in this punishing event the rider must complete an eight-second ride on a thrashing animal, sans saddle, while holding on with just one hand. The rider is judged for control and “spurring technique,” according to this Thoughtco.com article on the basics, while the horse is scored on power, agility and speed.

This is pretty much the headliner at a rodeo, and it’s also where many of the injuries occur. According to Thoughtco.com:

Cowboys competing in bareback take a lot of punishment on their arms, necks, and backs due to the power and quickness of the horses. As a result, elbow, shoulder and neck injuries are particularly common.

There’s a saddle bronc riding event on the rodeo circuit as well.

Bull riding

Bullrider
Kobby Dagan / Shutterstock.com

Bull riding, a”rough-stock” event like bronco riding. works by very similar rules — only swapping in a 1,500-pound animal bred for its bad temperament and the tendency to leap, buck and spin when a human is on its back. Aggressive breeding of these bulls has made them so formidable that the percentage of riders who manage to stay on for the eight-second qualifying time has plunged since the 1990s, according to a report in SBNation.

According to a study detailed in the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports, nearly half of rodeo injuries occur in this event. Many are relatively preventable — such as concussions — except that the industry has generally resisted the use of helmets and recovery guidelines.

Nowadays, bull riders can seek their fortunes in the dedicated Professional Bull Riding circuit. The current bull rider at No. 1 in the PBR 2018 world standings, Kaique Pacheco, has won nearly $370,000 — and the glory, of course. (The other big financial winners would be anyone who invested in PBR, which has seen staggering growth in revenues since its founding in 1992, Forbes reports.)

Barrel racing

Barrel racing
Diane Garcia / Shutterstock.com

Barrel racing is a timed event that involves riding a tight clover-shaped course around barrels in the ring. It was originally created for women, but it’s open to all now, according to the International Barrel Racing Association.

This sport is fashionable — lots of sequins and rhinestones. According to Career Trend:

It’s also a highly competitive and professional sport, with times so close that a hundredth of second can make the difference between taking home a prize and being out of the money.

Global earnings determine a racer’s standing at the end of the season. Nellie Miller, the 2017 world champion barrel racer, won $177,962 for the year.

Steer wrestling

Steer wrestling
Diane Garcia / Shutterstock.com

This may seem like a wacky way to make money, but it’s for real: The rider chases a steer, leaps onto the steer from the horse and then — assuming the cowboy survives that — he grabs the steer by the horns, pulls it off-balance and hauls it to the ground.

As you might imagine, injuries are common in this event.

Rodeo clown

Rodeo clown and steer
Shawn Hine / Shutterstock.com

Being rodeo clown (sometimes called a rodeo bullfighter) is not just funny business. In addition to entertaining the rodeo fans with skits and high jinks, the clown’s job is to distract the angry bull so riders can safely flee the ring after falling. It takes a lot more athleticism than, say, tying animal balloons.

According to JobMonkey, a rodeo clown can make $100 to $500 per gig. Full-time — based on 60 to 100 events a year — adds up to $50,000 per year. The article recommends updating your health insurance before you sign on.

Calf roping

Calf roping
Regien Paassen / Shutterstock.com

In this timed event, the rider has to combine speed, accuracy and flawless teamwork with his horse to rope and tie down the calf.

The mounted rider first must give the calf a specified head start before setting out in pursuit. Here’s the rest, as explained by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association:

The horse is trained to come to a stop as soon as the cowboy throws his loop and catches the calf. The cowboy then dismounts, sprints to the calf and throws it by hand, a maneuver called flanking. If the calf is not standing when the cowboy reaches it, he must allow the calf to get back on its feet before flanking it. After the calf is flanked, the roper ties any three legs together with a pigging string — a short, looped rope he clenches in his teeth during the run.

While the contestant is accomplishing all of that, his horse must pull back hard enough to eliminate any slack in the rope, but not so hard as to drag the calf.

When the roper finishes tying the calf, he throws his hands in the air as a signal that the run is completed. The roper then remounts his horse, rides forward to create slack in the rope and waits six seconds to see if the calf remains tied.

It’s easy to see how this sport emerged from ranching life. But critics argue that the sport is needlessly cruel to the 2- to 3-month-old calves, and very different from the way the animals are handled on an actual ranch.

Steer roping

Steer roping
Elizabeth A. Cummings / Shutterstock.com
Also known as steer jerking or steer tripping, this rodeo event is similar to calf roping. A single mounted roper pursues the steer and throws his rope to loop around the steer’s horns. Wikipedia offers this description of how the steer is brought down:

Once the rope is around the steer’s horns, a right-handed roper throws the slack of the rope over the steer’s right hip and then turns his horse to the left; when the rope comes tight, it pulls on the steer’s hip up and turns the steer’s head around, tripping or unbalancing the steer so that it falls.

This event, like calf roping, is controversial for its treatment of the steer, and is not included in all rodeos. It is featured in the professional Ram Rodeo series, and the cowboy in the top spot, cowboy Tuf Cooper, has winnings of more than $72,000 from the event this year, according to the results posted by PRCA.

Team roping

Team roping
Warren Price Photography / Shutterstock.com

In team roping, two riders — a “header” and a “heeler” — work together to capture a steer. The Red Bluff Roundup Association offered a great explanation of how it works:

The header ropes first and must make one of three legal catches on the steer — around both horns, around one horn and the head or around the neck. Any other catch by the header is considered illegal and the team is disqualified. After the header makes his catch, he turns the steer to the left and exposes the steer’s hind legs to the heeler. The heeler then attempts to rope both hind legs. If he catches only one foot, the team is assessed a five-second penalty. After the cowboys catch the steer, the clock is stopped when there is no slack in their ropes and their horses face one another.

Team roping is the only rodeo event that men and women compete in together and one that allows the less-experienced to work on their roping skills. There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye — both for riders learning the skills and handling steers used in the competition. (If you’re geeking out like me, check out this article on buying roping steers.)

Ever been to the rodeo? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
How to Get the Best Possible Deal on Car Insurance
How to Get the Best Possible Deal on Car Insurance

This is the last article on understanding and shopping for car insurance that you’ll ever need.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Generic products are a great way to save money, but sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

The 9 Best Home Insurers for Customer Satisfaction
The 9 Best Home Insurers for Customer Satisfaction

These are the only homeowners insurance companies to earn above-average scores for customer satisfaction.

8 Secrets of an Expert Thrift Store Shopper
8 Secrets of an Expert Thrift Store Shopper

Here’s how a veteran thrift shopper scores the best deals — and turns a profit from them.

The Annuity Everyone Needs — and Anybody Can Get
The Annuity Everyone Needs — and Anybody Can Get

This simple strategy can put more money in your pocket during retirement.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Whether you resell it for a big profit or add it to your own wardrobe, this type of clothing is a hidden steal.

10 Things Frugal People Never Buy
10 Things Frugal People Never Buy

If you’re a true tightwad, the mere thought of spending money on these items gives you the willies.

7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking
7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking

There’s more to Social Security than retirement benefits.

This Simple Mistake Might Weaken Your COVID-19 Vaccination
This Simple Mistake Might Weaken Your COVID-19 Vaccination

Avoid doing this before you get vaccinated.

10 Cars You Are Most Likely to Keep for 15 Years
10 Cars You Are Most Likely to Keep for 15 Years

The cars that owners hold onto the longest have one thing in common, a new study shows.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners
The 6 Best Investing Apps for Beginners

If you’re looking to ease into investing in the coronavirus economy with just a little money, check out these easy-to-use tools.

7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

Taking a Multivitamin? Here’s Why You Should Reconsider
Taking a Multivitamin? Here’s Why You Should Reconsider

A new study has bad news for the millions of Americans who spend money on multivitamins.

13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

11 Products Now in Short Supply Due to the Pandemic
11 Products Now in Short Supply Due to the Pandemic

Many goods we take for granted have become tough to find in 2021.

9 Things You Should Never Leave in a Car
9 Things You Should Never Leave in a Car

Thinking of leaving these possessions in a car? Prepare for unexpected consequences.

9 Mistakes People Make When Cleaning With Vinegar
9 Mistakes People Make When Cleaning With Vinegar

Cleaning with vinegar can save you a lot of money, but using it like this can cost you.

10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
10 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are all steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today
8 Things You Should Replace to Improve Your Life Today

Being frugal isn’t smart if you put off replacing these items.

10 Things Successful Retirees Do Differently
10 Things Successful Retirees Do Differently

These habits and characteristics can help put you on the track to success.

7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook
7 Income Tax Breaks That Retirees Often Overlook

Did you realize all these tax credits and deductions exist — or that they apply to retirees?

Prepare to Pay More for These 31 Drugs in 2021
Prepare to Pay More for These 31 Drugs in 2021

More than 700 prescription medications have seen price hikes so far this year. Here’s a look at the worst.

7 Costly Health Problems That Strike After Age 50
7 Costly Health Problems That Strike After Age 50

As we age, our bodies wear down. Here is how to cut costs associated with some common ailments.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.