Photo courtesy of Alex Tam of the Canby Herald
In saddle bronc the rider uses a specialized saddle with free swinging stirrups and no horn. The saddle bronc rider grips a simple rein braided from cotton or polyester and attached to a leather halter worn by the horse. The rider lifts on the rein and attempts to find a rhythm with the animal by spurring forwards and backwards with his feet. The rider must "mark out" (position the spurs over the horse's shoulders) until after the first jump to give the horse the advantage. The rider's spurs have no sharp edges, and the more the contestant spurs the horse, the higher the score. During the ride you'll see the top pro riders keep their chins down and focus on the horse's shoulders. This is how they determine which direction the horse will turn and helps with timing their spurring.
Disqualification occurs if the rider loses the stirrup or rein, is touched by the free hand or touches the horse or any part of the equipment with the free hand, or is bucked off before the whistle blows. The rider is scored by judges for skill and technique, and the horse is scored for difficulty. The two judges each mark the horse on a twenty-five point scale where an animal that changes direciton, twists, and kicks powerfully will obtain a higher score than one which simply gallops around the arena. With horse performance accounting for as much as half of the total score, cowboys want to be assigned (draw) horses that regularly score in the 20-25 point range. The two scores are combined, and the rider with the highest total wins. Scores in the 80s are very good, and in the 90s, are exceptional.