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The object is to race to the end of the rodeo arena to where a goat is staked out on a 10 feet (3.0 m) rope, catch the goat, throw it to the ground and tie three of its feet together. The distance from the starting line to the stake varies, but is usually 100 feet or so. Contestants dismount their horse while it is sliding to a stop, though usually while still in motion, run to the staked-out goat, which must be taken to the ground and laid on its side in order to tie three of its legs together. The rope used is a nylon or cotton rope with an approximate length of four feet, called a "string." There are two main types of strings, rope and braided. Rope strings come in 2 and 3 ply, meaning 2 or 3 strands of rope are twisted to create the goat tying string, this type is generally less flexible and most common among contestants. The braided string is a flimsy type, though more flexible, resembling a thick braided shoelace. Beeswax or rosin is used to preserve the longevity of the string and help the tie hold longer. When the goat is tied, contestants signal the end of their run by throwing their hands up and getting off the goat to indicate the completion of the run. The contestant with the fastest time wins.
There are penalties that may be added to the contestant's run at the judge’s discretion, including disqualification if the goat comes untied during the 6 second tie period, and a 10-second penalty (depending on the rodeo sanctioning organization) added to a time if the horse crosses the staked rope of the goat or causes the goat to become loose. If the contestant touches the goat or string after indicating that they are finished, they will receive a no time. Also, after the contestant is finished tying, they must move at least three feet away from the goat.
Goat tying is typically done by girls in high school and college rodeo and by both boys and girls in junior or youth rodeos. Depending on the level of competition, a winning time could be in the range of seven to nine seconds.