Steer wrestling is a rodeo event in which a cowboy must wrestle a steer to the ground. This description is actually deceptively simple, as it leaves out the crucial piece of information: both steer and cowboy are moving at around 30 miles per hour (almost 50 kilometers per hour) when this event occurs. This sport involves strength, speed, and precision, and it is extremely demanding; champions in the sport routinely have times under five seconds, with the world record as of 2008 standing at 2.4 seconds.
Several actors are involved in steer wrestling. The first is the steer, a neutered bull which is typically selected on the basis of size; steers often weigh three times as much as the cowboys who attempt to wrestle them. The second actor is the cowboy, who is mounted on a steer wrestling horse, a horse specially trained for the demands of steer wrestling. Finally, the cowboy has an assistant known as a hazer who keeps the steer running in a straight line; this is an extremely crucial role, as the cowboy could otherwise be seriously injured.
Before a cowboy starts a steer wrestling “run,” the steer is barricaded in a chute while the cowboy and the horse stand behind a simple rope barrier. The barrier is attached to a quick release catch which is in turn attached to a long rope tied to the steer. When the cowboy is ready, he or she signals to release the steer, and the steer jumps out of the chute, gaining a head start. When the rope attached to the steer is tightened as the steer runs across the rodeo ring, the quick release breaks, dropping the rope barrier and allowing the cowboy and horse to give chase.
The cowboy must catch up to the steer on horseback and then jump off and wrestle the steer to the ground, using the steer's horns as leverage. Typically, cowboys try to transfer their weight to the upper body of the steer on their way out of the saddle, bringing the steer down with the momentum they have gained from the ride. The entire process, from release of the steer to its wrestle to the ground, takes around three to 10 seconds, making steer wrestling the quickest event in rodeo.
Most champion steer wrestlers are male, because their added bulk gives them a distinct advantage in the field. The weight of a full grown male cowboy can sometimes be enough to bring a steer down when combined with his muscle; if not, the sport can potentially get very dangerous, as steers do not, as a general rule, appreciate being wrestled. This is where the hazer becomes critical, because he or she keeps the steer running straight and the cowboy out of danger.