Saddle bronc riding is rodeo's classic event, both a complement and contrast to the wilder spectacles of bareback and bull riding. The event requires strength, but it is as much about style as anything: grace and precise timing are mandatory. Saddle bronc riding evolved from the task of breaking and training horses to work the cattle ranches of the old West. Many cowboys claim riding saddle broncs is the toughest rodeo event to learn because of the technical skills necessary to master it. Every move the bronc rider makes must be synchronized with the movement of the horse.
The cowboy's objective is a fluid ride, as opposed to the wilder and less-controlled ride of bareback riders. Among the similarities shared by saddle bronc riding and bareback riding is the rule that riders must mark out their horses on the first jump from the chute. To properly mark out his horse, the saddle bronc rider must have both heels on the animal's shoulders when it makes the first jump from the chute. If the rider misses his mark, he receives no score. While a bareback rider has a rigging to hold onto, the saddle bronc rider has only a thick rein attached to his horse's halter. Using one hand, the cowboy tries to stay securely seated in his saddle. If he touches any part of the horse or his own body with his free hand, he is disqualified. Judges score the horse's bucking action, the cowboy's control of the horse and the cowboy's spurring action. While striving to keep his toes turned outward, the rider spurs from the points of the horse's shoulders to the back of the saddle. To score well, the rider must maintain that action throughout the eight-second ride. While the bucking ability of the horse is quite naturally built into the scoring system, a smooth, rhythmic ride is sure to score better than a wild, uncontrolled one.