The Tucson Rodeo features seven professional rodeo events. Six of the events, bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, team roping and bull riding are sanctioned by the Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association. Women’s barrel racing is sanctioned by the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.
Professional rodeo action consists of two types of competitions — roughstock events and timed events — and an all-around cowboy crown for the cowboy with the most money won in two or more events.
In the roughstock events, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding, a contestant's score is equally dependent upon his performance and the animal's performance. To earn a qualified score, the cowboy, while using only one hand, must stay aboard a bucking horse or bull for eight seconds. If the rider touches the animal, himself or any of his equipment with his free hand, he is disqualified.
In saddle bronc and bareback riding, a cowboy must "mark out" his horse; that is, he must exit the chute with his spurs set above the horse's shoulders and hold them there until the horse's front feet hit the ground after the initial jump out of the chute. Failure to do so results in disqualification.
During the regular season, two judges each score a cowboy's qualified ride by awarding 0 to 25 points for the rider's performance and 0 to 25 points for the animal's effort. The judges' scores are then combined to determine the contestant's score. A perfect score is 100 points.
In timed events, steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping and barrel racing, cowboys and cowgirls at "the other end of the arena" compete against the clock, as well as against each other. A contestant's goal is to post the fastest time in his or her event. In steer wrestling and the roping events, calves and steers are allowed a head start. The competitor, on horseback, starts in a three-sided fenced area called a box. The fourth side opens into the arena.
A rope barrier is stretched across that opening and is tied to the calf or steer with a breakaway loop. Once the calf or steer reaches the head-start point — predetermined by the size of the arena — the barrier is automatically released. If a cowboy breaks that barrier, a 10-second penalty is added.