Rodeos may be something you typically only see in the American West, but did you know that the word Rodeo actually comes from the Spanish word ‘rodear,’ meaning ‘to surround?’ Let’s take a look at the history of rodeo.
Let’s jump back to the 1800s where it all started — with an event called ranchos. This was kind of like a modern day rodeo; it was an event in which ranchers competed and showed off their skills. The skills involved roping and horsemanship. As Spain held much of the land in the American West during the late 1700s and early 1800s and Spanish missionaries needed to raise cows, there was a large demand for skilled horsemen.
Later, when the lands were converted into private ranches, cowboys found work by running cattle and managing land. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that cattle herds became spread out, and the rise of the American cowboy followed. It wasn’t long however until the railroads disrupted the whole picture, changing the lay of the land and dividing up rangelands. With the land divided, the demand for labor diminished — and cowboys had to find a new way to make money.
The New Rodeo
Over the history of ranching, there have been informal competitions where cowboys would challenge each other to different tasks. From these competitions emerged rodeo as we know it today. Small towns would have stock shows, and cowboys would put on roping and riding contests to make a living. Showmanship became increasingly important, and this is where America’s captivation with the “Wild West” came in.
The PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) was formed in 1936, when cowboys decided that the entry fee should be added to the prize money, and that judging should be conducted with greater objectivity. Modern rodeo today often begins at the Junior High and High Schools across the country, many of them having rodeo clubs. In addition, private boarding schools such as Wasatch Academy offer athletic rodeo programs for students to compete in high school rodeo events and prepare the rodeo athletes for enrollment in college rodeo programs and eventually pro rodeo.
Rodeo now reaches into the world of professional sports, with hundreds of thousands of people attending events and million more watching it on ESPN.