Cowboys, called vaqueros, originated in Mexico, but the American cowboy created the unique lifestyle glamorized in books, movies and television shows. However, the real work of being a cowboy in the old west was less glamorous —rough, grueling and lonely. Average pay was usually $25 to $40 a month.
The lifestyle led to cowboys betting on how skillful they were at bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and riding wild horses. The earliest "bronco-busting contest" on record was on July 4, 1869, in Deer Trail, Colorado Territory. Two of the earliest rodeos ever were held in Pecos, Texas, in 1883, the first to give prizes, and in Prescott, Arizona, in 1888, the first to charge admission.
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, PRCA, with its origin roots in 1936 has about 7,000 members (5,138 of whom are currently contestants) and sanctions approximately 600 rodeos a year. In 2013, $39.6 million was paid out in prize money at PRCA rodeos. In 2017, twenty-three year old bull rider Sage Kimzey won $436,479.19 in prize money.