Steer riding or steerback riding is the act of riding a steer. Steers are trained to be ridden as riding animals. In comparison to bulls, a steer, if cared for properly, is typically gentle and tame; bulls are usually only ridden in the rodeo event, as ones not bred for the sport can still be aggressive, even with proper care. Although it can be done, cows are not trained as often, as they are valued more for their milk and calves.
As well as free-roaming transport, many trained steers are used to perform tasks such as jumping over obstacles, racing, and trail riding. Cattle do require different maintenance and handling than horses, which are some of the most prevalent domesticated riding animals due to their agility. Cattle are not as fast as horses, and cannot jump nearly as high, but generally are stronger and less easily frightened. It should be noted that some breeds of cattle are more conducive than others.
There are many forms of tack equipped by steers. A saddle is mounted on the steer’s back for the rider to sit on, and commonly, a halter is attached to reins that the rider holds to direct the animal. Nose rings are sometimes pierced through the septum of the steer and attached to reins, rather than using a halter, although this procedure is painful to the steer. Additionally, steers are not only controlled by being steered using reins; verbal commands are also commonly used.
As a rodeo event
In addition to riding seriously as a means of transportation, steers are ridden as a rodeo event; since they are not as hostile as bulls are, this is often an introductory form of bull riding for younger riders usually between the ages of seven and fourteen. Instead of bucking bulls, the children ride steers that buck. They are antagonised and panicked using painful electric prods and spurs with protruding rowels. The steers usually weigh between 500 to 1,000 pounds (230 to 450 kg). Steer riding usually follows mutton busting as the participant ages and grows.
Riding steers allows riders to develop needed skills before facing bulls. As bulls are being bred to be more athletic and dangerous, it is more important for young riders to get all of the experience they need before facing bulls. When youth take on "junior bulls" that only a decade or two ago were considered pro-level bulls, they have an extremely low success rate and get discouraged or injured beyond what is reasonably acceptable.
Like bull riding, riders must stay on for eight seconds for a qualified ride. Half of the score is awarded for the cowboy’s ability to ride, and half for the animal’s ability to buck. One difference is that in some steer riding competitions, riders are allowed to hang on with both hands. They can choose to compete riding one-handed, like the adults, but if they do, they fall under the same rules as bull riding and can be disqualified for grabbing the steer with both hands, or for touching the animal or themselves during the ride. Failure to stay on for the full 8 seconds results in disqualification and no score.
There are usually two types of steer riding rodeo sports: Saddle bronc steer riding and bareback steer riding.
Saddle bronc steer riding is very similar to saddle bronc riding, where the rider uses a specialized western saddle without a horn (for safety) and hangs onto a heavy lead rope, called a bronc rein, which is attached to a halter on the animal. In bareback steer riding, riders use equipment and riding techniques that are similar to adult bull riding. The steers are equipped with the following: a flank strap – the flank strap is placed around a steer's flank, just in front of the hind legs, to encourage bucking. Also used is a "bull rope" – a rope that goes around the steer for the rider to hang onto, with a handle on the top and a bell underneath. The riders wear batwing chaps and spurs. For safety, they wear protective vests and helmets with a face mask which resembles those worn by hockey goalies. Some aspiring bull riders also participate in miniature bull riding instead of, or after, steer riding. This gives them a chance to gradually become used to bucking riding on smaller animals before graduating to full-size bulls.
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