Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Mandy. Mandy Wonders, “Why do we have rodeos?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Mandy!

Let’s start today’s Wonder of the Day with a laugh. Ready? Here’s the joke: What do you call a bull that fell asleep at the rodeo? Think about it. Any ideas?

You call it a bulldozer!

That one really gave us the giggles. It also made us WONDER—what are rodeos, anyway? What happens at these events? If you’re curious, too, keep reading to find out.

The word “rodeo” comes from Spanish and means “to surround.” The history of rodeos stretches all the way back to the Old West. Cattle drivers (also known as vaqueros, cowboys, and cowgirls) had many ways to round up animals. It wasn’t long before they started competing with one another. They wanted to see who had the best skills when it came to driving cattle.

By the 1880s, rodeos were popular all over the American West. Cattle drivers competed for prizes and bragging rights. Soon, people came in large crowds to watch the events. Rodeos began charging admission in the late 1880s.

What happens at a rodeo? Each one includes several competitions. One you may have heard of is bull riding. In this event, a person rides on the back of a bucking bull. The goal is to stay on the animal for eight seconds, after which judges award points.

At most rodeos, you’ll also see people compete in a barrel racing event. In this competition, riders race a horse in a circle around three barrels in the arena. The goal is to do so as quickly as possible without knocking over a barrel. The person with the fastest time wins this event. 

Another event at rodeos is tie-down roping. Competitors race to lay a calf on its side and tie three of its legs together. This is another event in which the fastest time wins. Many other competitions are often part of a rodeo. These can include team roping, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, and steer wrestling.

Several groups hold rodeo competitions. One is the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). The PRCA hosts about 600 rodeos each year. It also has a points system that crowns one person its world champion.

Women have been a part of rodeos since the beginning. After World War II, though, they were pushed out of many events. Today, the PRCA only allows women to compete in barrel riding at its rodeos. As a result, the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association formed in 1948. It continues to host competitions for women today.

Many early rodeos also left out people of American Indian heritage. When American Indians were allowed to compete, they often faced unfair scoring. The Indian National Finals Rodeo formed in 1976 and holds hundreds of rodeos each year. These events are a place for American Indians to be in community with each other. They’re also a place to celebrate the important place of animals in their cultures.

Have you ever been to a rodeo? Would you like to? In recent years, many people have become more concerned about the ethics of rodeos. They worry that the events treat animals poorly. Still, others see rodeos as an important part of their culture and history. What do you think the future holds for rodeos?

Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.W.1, CCRA.SL.1

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