The Secret Life of Rodeo Goats
Goat Tying and Goat Roping May Not Be What You Think
What is life like for rodeo goats? Imagine being a young goat, old enough to leave your mother, curious about life, and ready for all the adventure a young goat could hope for. These goats spend one season, spring through fall, traveling to new locations, receiving a lot of attention, and getting their legs tied together. A lot.
The rodeo goats arrive at the location the day before the event. They are put in a pen with food and water and allowed to settle in and acclimate. The only event in junior and high school rodeo involving goats is goat tying. This event is the girls’ equivalent to calf roping or tie down roping.
Bailey Jo Griener has been involved in rodeo since she was two years old. She had tied goats for 12 years. “I don’t really know how humane it would be to rope a goat off a horse,” she said. “I mean you’re looking at a 1,200 pound animal vs. a 40 to 60 pound animal. Your tying calves are 200 pounds and can handle that.”
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During the Rodeo
When it is time for the rodeo goat to be used, a handler leads it into the arena. They tie the goat to a 10-foot rope in the middle of the arena then hold it until a flag starts the time. That’s when the fun begins. The contestant rides her horse full speed into the arena. She jumps off and starts running right before she reaches the goat. She grabs the goat, flips it over, crosses at least three of its legs and ties them together with a leather thong, pigging string, or rope.
According to the National High School Rodeo Association’s rule book, “Contestant must string a front leg and then cross and tie any three legs with a pigging string. There must be at least one wrap around all three legs and finished with a half hitch or hooey. A hooey is a half hitch with a loop, the tail of the string may be partly or all the way pulled through.” The timer stops when she raises her hands to signal she is done. The contestant then steps away and the goat has six seconds to try to free its legs. The entire run happens very quickly. In state or local rodeos, there is a one-minute time limit. The limit in national rodeo is thirty seconds.
In Junior Rodeo, 6th through 8th grade, both boys and girls participate in goat tying. In High School Rodeo, 9th through 12th grade, only girls can compete. There are no goat tying competitions in the PRCA rodeo. Most kids that compete have at least one or two goats at home to practice with.
Goat tying is a physically demanding sport. “Girls that are tying the fast times, that are winning rodeos, are jumping off of their horse while it’s still running at a high rate of speed,” said Bailey Jo. “They don’t generally stop their horse and then get off, so you have to think of your leg hitting the ground going, you know, 20 miles an hour. It’s pretty rough on your knees.” There is a good chance, if you watch a rodeo, you will see a girl not get her feet under her correctly and face-plant. They jump right up and continue the competition.
Protecting the Goats
Before you get worried that these goats are having the worst summer of their lives, know that there are rules in place to protect rodeo goats. When not being tied, they can only be handled by their contractor or someone who works for the rodeo. During the event, a handler stands with the rodeo goats to help with their safety and well-being. In state and local rodeos, each goat can only be tied five times per day. For national, they can only be tied once a day. The contractor must provide extra goats in case one gets sick or injured.
To help make sure these rules are followed, the goats are numbered so they can be easily identified. Usually the numbers appear on plastic ear tags in each ear, but in small rodeos can be painted on each side. Their horns are capped and if the horns are long, athletic tape is wrapped around each horn and then back and forth between them for the safety of the contestants.
Bailey Jo’s brother, TJ Griener, owner of Stone Ranch Goat Productions, says he treats his goats as athletes themselves. He says good clean alfalfa and good treatment help them be strong enough to take being hauled around. TJ’s goal is to have the most even pens of goats at every rodeo. That means all the rodeo goats are the same weight, size, and breed. According to the National High School Rodeo Association, “Goats shall be uniform in size and breed with a weight limit of 40 to 60 pounds per goat. Pygmy goats are not allowed to be used in the goat tying event.” TJ provides the goat types Boer, Spanish, and Kiko to about 12 events a year.
The only National High School Rodeo event involving goats is goat tying. Outside the official rodeo arena, TJ’s goats sometimes participate in jackpot events based on the original ranch rodeos from America’s homestead heritage. These often feature goat roping and goat branding. Goat roping uses a team roping format, but the contestants are on foot. Goat brandings are like the ranch rodeo event for cows. People compete to see how fast they can catch the animal and press a brand to its side. The brand is not heated and is dipped in paint so it will show up. Like the ropings, brandings with goats are done on foot to prevent injury to the goats. Most of these events require an entrance fee and give cash or prizes to the winners.
Cowboy Relief Roping sponsors such events to raise money for medical bills for working cowboys/cowgirls and their families. Their spokesperson told me, “We switched it up last year to a ‘Wild Goat Milking’ for kids 12 and under. Teams of three and go into the herd, rope the goat, and milk it. The kids have to remove the ropes and run the milk to the judges for time. Fastest times win prizes. For the five and under kids, we have an adult rope a goat and hold it at a distance and the little kids are supposed to get a ribbon off the tail of the goat and run it to the judge for time.”
The Business Side
How do you contract your goats? TJ realized he had everything he needed to be a stock contractor: bulls, broncs, steers, and calves, but most importantly goats. It seemed to him that most contractors didn’t care much about goat tying, so rodeo goats were hard to find. In some areas, rodeos have to use separate contractors for goats. TJ bid out his services with a buddy that was already in the business. That began his dream career. He tries to have fresh goats at every rodeo. After their rodeo goat career, they are used as weed-eating goats until they are about 70 pounds. Most Boer does will be used for breeding and the wethers and bucks sold off. To anyone wanting to get into the business, he says, “Make sure your pen is even weight, size, and breed … and always remember you have to spend money to make money.”
What Do You Think?
Some people believe using goats in rodeo is cruel. The American Humane Association (AHA) used to campaign against rodeo through anti-rodeo literature but changed its strategy in the 1950s and began working with rodeo to establish rules to ensure the humane treatment of livestock. People who work with goats in rodeo say the goats are happy and well cared for. They show no signs of trauma or distrust of humans. So far the goats themselves have declined to comment.
For Further Information
You can watch goat tying at any junior or high school rodeo. If you want to get your child involved, contact the American Junior Rodeo Association at http://www.ajra.org/, the National High School Rodeo Association at https://www.nhsra.com/, or your local rodeo.
Originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.