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What are Broncos?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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Broncos are, in modern terms, simply bucking horses. Derived from the Spanish language, the word broncos, which translates to mean rough or surly, was originally used to described wild or untrained horses that were prone to bucking. Today, broncos are the bucking horses used in rodeo events, which are actually trained domestic horses. Rather than calling the horses "broncos," the term broncs is more commonly used.

Bronc riding has been a popular rodeo event for years. There are two types of events that use bucking broncos – saddle and bareback bronc riding. Bareback bronc riding is widely accepted as the more difficult of the two. In either event, the cowboys aim to stay on their broncos, or broncs, for a full 8 seconds. The riders are scored on a scale of 0 to 50 and the horses are scored on the same scale. The wilder the horse appears to be, the more points the rider can score.

There are two different opinions regarding bronco riding. Rodeo supporters maintain that the broncos used in rodeo events are well cared for animals, raised for performing and breeding. Animal rights activists oppose rodeos because they believe that the broncos suffer abuse. Rodeo commissioners and proponents of the circuit staunchly deny that abuse occurs and that there are strict rules regarding the use of the animals.

Prior to the domestication of horses, broncos were simply wild horses. The mustangs that once roamed the plains of the western United States and Mexico were unpredictable. They were often captured and left to roam fenced corrals until they were mature enough to be broke in for riding. During breaking, a horse would buck, which is a natural physical reaction of horses for various reasons, and thus became known as "broncos" or "bucking broncos."

The domesticated horses kept today on cattle ranches, raised for the sport of riding, and used for racing are not trained to buck and in fact, bucking would be an undesirable behavior. However, rodeo horses are trained and encouraged to throw their riders, but can also be ridden normally.

The symbol of a mustang or bronco is associated with wild and free as well as fast and is found on various products as logos and as team mascots. The Ford Motor Company’s long-time best selling sports car, the Mustang, is one example and the NFL team the Denver Broncos is another.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a bronco?

A bronco is a term historically used in the American West to describe a wild or untrained horse that tends to buck or resist when ridden. Broncos were often mustangs or other feral horses captured for use or to be tamed by cowboys. The term has become synonymous with the rugged, untamed spirit of the West.

Are broncos a specific breed of horse?

No, broncos are not a specific breed. The term refers to the behavior and training status of the horse rather than its lineage. Broncos can come from various breeds, typically those found in the wild or on the ranges of the American West, such as mustangs or other free-roaming horses.

How are broncos typically used?

Historically, broncos were captured and trained for various uses, including ranch work, riding, or as stock horses in rodeos. Their agility and spirit made them suitable for the demanding tasks of cattle herding. Today, the term is often associated with rodeo events where broncos are ridden by cowboys in a display of skill and bravery.

What is the difference between a bronco and a mustang?

A mustang is a specific type of free-roaming horse, often a descendant of Spanish or Iberian horses, found in the American West. A bronco, on the other hand, refers to any wild or untrained horse that bucks, regardless of its breed. All mustangs can be considered broncos if they are untrained, but not all broncos are mustangs.

Can broncos be trained and domesticated?

Yes, broncos can be trained and domesticated with patience and skill. The process, known as "breaking," involves acclimating the horse to human contact, saddles, and riders. Trained broncos can become reliable work horses or even competitive in disciplines like rodeo, showing the adaptability and intelligence of these spirited animals.

Why are sports teams named after broncos?

Sports teams, such as the Denver Broncos, adopt the name 'broncos' to embody the qualities of strength, agility, and untamed spirit associated with these horses. The name conveys a sense of ruggedness and determination, characteristics that sports teams often wish to be identified with, inspiring both players and fans alike.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Logicfest — On Feb 03, 2014

What are Broncos? 2-5 in Super Bowls is what they are.

Actually, the man -- or woman -- who is skilled at riding wild broncos can make a very good living in the rodeo circuit across the nation. Bronco riding is, however, a skill that is picked up over a lifetime. The rodeo types I have known were the ones who had been riding horses since they were big enough to sit on a horse.

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