Custer and Jordan: Rodeo Judges
Compared to many sports, the rules of the bull riding game appear pretty basic. One rider hangs onto one bull with one hand. If he does this for eight seconds, he gets a score. If the score is higher than the others, he wins.
With a set of rules this simple, the position of bull riding judge would appear one of the easiest in the world. In truth, the job is not easy at all. Jim Bob Custer and Allan Jordan can attest to this.
Custer, from Wickenburg, Ariz., and Jordan, from Kingman, Ariz., each make their living as rodeo officials. The two men served as the judges for the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Touring Pro Division event in Denver, Colo., during the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in January.
Prior to becoming officials, both men competed at the highest levels of the sport. Custer finished twice in the top 20 of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Saddle Bronc Riding standings. A talented bull rider as well, he qualified for the PBR World Finals in 1994 and again in 1996. Jordan, originally from California, rode bulls professionally for many years and is widely known for riding the famous bucking bull “Oscar.” He’s one of only five cowboys to ride the bull once and one of just three ever to cover him twice. Jordan’s score of 96 points on Oscar in Oakdale, Calif., in 1978 remains among the highest ever recorded for any event.
Both men agree experience as a contestant is necessary to be a good judge. “To be a decent judge, you need to have some experience as a contestant” says Jordan. He goes on, “Without an understanding of what it takes to ride an animal, you’re not as qualified to determine what an accurate score should be.” Custer agrees. “At one point or another I competed in every event in rodeo,” he says. “Knowledge of all aspects of the sport helps a guy put it all together. The score is the end result, but knowing things start to finish helps you arrive at the right one.”
When deciding their scores for a ride, the officials are looking for the quality of the animal, the control the rider displays throughout the ride and, of course, eight full seconds on top of the animal. In the PBR, the clock starts as soon as any part of the animal breaks the plane of the chute gate. The clock stops at the end of eight seconds or when the cowboy’s hand comes out of the bull rope, he touches the ground, or touches the animal or himself with the free arm.
Traditional scoring, and the method used in Denver, Colo., includes two judges using a scale of 1-25 points for the animal and 1-25 points for the contestant. Each judge awards a total of 50 points for the ride and the two scores are added together. The best possible score in this scenario is 100. Winning scores are usually in the 85 to 93 point range.
“When I’m looking at the ride, I’m watching how hard the animal bucks,” says Jordan. “I’m looking for how high he jumps and if he changes directions. At the same time, I’m watching the cowboy to see how he handles all of it.” Custer adds, “I’m looking for the same stuff. My job is to give the guy that rides the best animal with the most control the best score.”
Top scores during the three day event in Denver were earned by Cord McCoy, Valdiron de Oliveira, and Jared Farley. McCoy, from Tupelo, Okla., and Oliveira, of Aparacida Goiana, Brazile, earned matching 88.5 scores from the judges. Farley, of Kempsey, New South Wales, Australia, earned the highest marked ride of the rodeo with a 90 point ride in the final go-round.
The fans love bull riding for the action and occasional near-death experience it provides, but for the judges it’s all business. At the end of the day, both Custer and Jordan agree they want to be remembered for something other than the final results. In their words, “We want to be known as fair. Not everyone may agree with our decisions during an event, but we want them to regard us as giving every animal and every man the same opportunity to post an honest score.”