Scoring Bronc and Bull Riding

Professional judge Clayton Macom shares what he’s looking for in the perfect roughstock ride.

By Lauren Underwood

It is common knowledge that to win a roughstock event you’ve got to ride a bucking horse or bull for 8 seconds. But how you ride in those 8 seconds also matters and can be the difference between being first place and being—everybody else.

Roughstock events are, in fact, judged events, which means every 8-second ride is scored by two expert officials, or judges. Each judge can award up to 25 points for the rider’s performance and 25 points for the animal’s performance for a possible perfect combined score of 100 points.

Clayton Macom, of Stigler, Oklahoma, is a bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding judge for IPRA (International Professional Rodeo Association), PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) and NIRA (National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association). A 10-time bull riding, bareback riding and all-around champion in the Cowboy’s Regional Rodeo Association and a five-time International Finals Rodeo qualifier who won the average in 1999, Macom says he “can tell when a horse or a bull is really difficult or hard to ride,” and he uses this expertise to make cowboys’ dreams of victory come true.

Below, Macom explains what he is looking for in the perfect ride and how young competitors can improve their scores by paying attention to the details.

A Judge’s Prospective

In bareback and saddle bronc riding, the first thing a rider will be judged on is whether or not he “marks the horse out.” To mark out, a cowboy’s feet must at the point of his horse’s shoulders when it makes its first jump out of the chute. This is a mandatory action in bronc riding. Failure to mark out will result in a no score.

After this first jump out of the shoot, Macom says there are specific things that he pays special attention to during a ride—control, exposure, spurring stroke, or spurring motion, and how well the horse bucks.

“In bareback riding, a lot of your focus is on the rider’s feet,” he says. “In the spurring stroke, you start with a mark out, and when they turn [the cowboy will] usually hold the horse one more jump, and then pull his feet straight up to the riggin with his toes turned out.”

When done correctly, this sequence of movements can result in additional points for the rider, as can his subsequent body position and overall control during the ride.

“‘Exposure’ is how much the rider exposes himself from his rigging and going back to [the horse’s] neck,” Macom explains. “Control is making the same motion every time, straight up the neck to the rigging, then right back down.

“We also watch the upper body. [The rider’s shoulders should stay] square, and their free arm is not sporadically moving every different direction.”

In saddle bronc, this opening sequence is slightly different, with a change in the ideal spurring stroke.

“[We want] their feet all the way in the stirrups and their feet to come back all the way to the cantle,” Macom says. “Their toes need to be out. We want to see the spur where it almost bounces because they are squeezing so hard.”

Macom claims judges notice and reward how much effort a rider puts into this spurring motion.  Bottom line, if you don’t want to lose points, show a little “try.”

“A lot of guys just kind of go through the motions,” Macom says. “They call it ‘polishing your boots.’ Their toes are in. The spurs are never hitting the horse at all, and that’s a deduction. That’s not a good spur ride.”

Obvious control is also rewarded in a saddle bronc ride.

“We watch for control in your free arm,” Macom explains, “how you are lifting the rein rather than pulling the rein. Your chin should stay down. We watch how high you can get in your horse’s neck with your spurs, a full stroke all the way back to the cantle then all the way back to the front. If you are beating your horse back to the ground, that’s a plus.”

The third roughstock event, bull riding, doesn’t require a mark out or even spurring, but riders are still rewarded for staying in charge during their turn in the arena.

“In bull riding, it’s mainly about control,” Macom says. “We look for riders to have their chests out, toes turned out, good upper body control, chin down, good free arm movement. If they spur that’s a bonus—if it’s a controlled spur. If it’s out of control and flopping, it’ll be a deduction.

“If they can just sit there and ride their bull, they will be marked the same [score] as their bull. But if they are staying above the bull, toes out, showing a lot of chest and spurring a little bit, they can be a point or two above their bull.”

Speaking of scoring bulls, judges have to be just aware of the animal’s performance as they are of the rider’s, but the details are a little less rigid. For example, when watching horses, Macom has one chief attribute he likes to see. He prefers a lot of “kick” throughout the ride.

“In the horses, when their front end comes up and drops and moves forward, and they kick so hard, you can almost see the swells, or the riggin in bareback riding, you’d better move away [from the horse],” Macom says. “That’s really difficult, and I reward horses that do that.”

A bull can receive extra points from Macom by changing directions a lot, by keeping his front end up in the air and by displaying a lot of drop throughout the ride.

The End Result

So, if you do everything right, what kind of score can you expect from a judge? Macom considers a quality ride to be worth about 18 points, while an exceptional ride could be worth 23 or 24 points. Keep in mind, a 75-point ride (when both judges scores are combined) is considered competitive in roughstock events.

In every case, Macom believes each rider should get a fair shot at winning, no matter who he is or what he has accomplished in the past.

“[To me] a world champion is just as equal as the local boy just getting on his first one,” he says. “It’s who makes the best ride on the best animal. They should win first. It doesn’t matter who it is.”

EXPERT TRIVIA: Clayton Macom lives with his wife, Laura, and three kids, Dakota (18), Colt (14), and Savannah (11), in Stigler, Oklahoma. Dakota is following in his dad’s foot steps and currently competes in bull riding.

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