A judge reviews the ladies breakaway event at the Indian National Finals Rodeo.

Indian National Finals Rodeo to Use First Certified Native Judges in 2015

Lee Allen

The Bible and bulldogging have something in common -- outside the pews of a cowboy church. The scripture in the book of Matthew 7:1-5 says, judge not, lest ye be judged.

But someone has to sit in judgment of the cowboys and cowgirls that compete in the Indian National Finals Rodeo. So, a clinic held in March, in Las Vegas, provided three days of training for prospective certified judges for INFR sanctioned and tour rodeos. 

“We look for judges that have rodeo experience and knowledge,” Bo Vocu, superintendent of INFR judges, told ICTMN. “They should be familiar with the INFR rulebook, and in compliance with those requirements.  We use a course similar to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association that teaches judges what to look for in rough stock events and positioning in the timed events.”

Although the INFR's goal is to be as “Native” as possible, the November 2015 rodeo will be the first to use certified, Native judges. “Our program has been in place going on five years now, and we’ve used INFR-certified judges at all tour rodeos as well as the junior/senior finals,” says Vocu. “Our pool of good judges has grown…they’ve earned the right to judge our biggest rodeo, the Finals at South Point Equestrian Center in Las Vegas, November 3-7.”

The rationale is obvious: a properly-trained and certified official will make less-errors in judging the competition. “A bad mark in rough stock or a missed flag in timed events can cost a cowboy first place pretty easily, so we need judges that are both ready and consistent in their decisions,” says Vocu. “Judges are human, and make mistakes, but we want the ones who will make the fewest errors and certification ensures knowledge of the rules and criteria involved in making correct judgment calls.” Vocu said that the certified judges are held accountable by members of INFR while nonmember, uncertified judges have no one to answer to and no requirements to meet. 

Judges must also maintain focus on the mission at hand because when the whistle blows, scoring decisions are made in seconds.Todd Buffalo and Jim Cutler are two of INFR’s experienced judges. “I’ve cowboyed all my life, and gone through all the aspects of the rodeo industry starting with bucking horseriding, then all the other events. I’ve been a stock contractor, and a rodeo announcer, and married a barrel racer. All our kids, heck, all our family has rodeoed. We were raised this way and rodeo is tradition in our family,” says Buffalo, a rodeo veteran with 30 years of experience.

There are two requirements of a good rodeo judge in Buffalo’s book, knowing the rule book, and having experience in the events.“You mark what you see, and if you’ve seen it or done it before, you’ll be a better judge.  If you’ve been on a bucking horse or roped calves, team roped, or bulldogged steers and have been up and down the highway driving to rodeos all your life, you become part of the development of bettering the sport of Indian rodeo,” says Buffalo.

“You’re a darn sure better judge if you have personal experience to draw from,” says Idaho-based judge Cutler, who did timed-events in his cowboy days. “Rodeo judges don’t have the luxury of 'slo-mo' or instant replay; you see it, you call it. And if you miss it, you miss it, costing somebody some dollars.” 

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