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What Is... Flag and National Anthem Etiquette At A Rodeo

In the United States, rodeos and rodeo-related events are usually opened with the formal presentation of the Flag of the United States of America followed by the national anthem. The information below describes the proper way for US citizens within US jurisdictions to show their respect for these symbols of our country, as defined by the Code of Laws of the United States of America (also known as the United States Code).

At right: The flag being formally presented at a rodeo arena.

Flag etiquette

It should be noted that while flag and/or national anthem etiquette is federal law as defined by the United States Code, there are no provisions for enforcement. Showing proper etiquette or respect is voluntary.

Flag Etiquette

When the flag of the United States of America is formally presented or paraded at a rodeo arena (or anywhere else), the proper etiquette or respect is described below:

United States Code, Title 4 Chapter 1 — The Flag, section 9:

During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

Keep in mind that there is no need to observe the above etiquette if you merely see the flag. For example, at a rodeo the flag is often carried by a mounted rider. If the rider should carry the flag into the arena during a warm-up period prior to the rodeo there is no need to stand at attention and/or salute. However, when the flag is formally introduced and passes by, rules of proper etiquette and respect apply.


National Anthem Etiquette

During the playing of the national anthem of the United States of America, the proper etiquette or respect is described below:

United States Code, Title 36, section 301:

1. Designation. — The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

2. Conduct During Playing — During rendition of the national anthem —

1. when the flag is displayed —

1. individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

2. members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

3. all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

2. when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

It is worth mentioning that during the formal presentation of the flag and the national anthem, that not all "headdress" is the type that needs to be removed. For example, religious headdress has always been considered an exception and may be left on.


Women and Hats

At a rodeo it is not uncommon to find women wearing cowboy hats or some other type of hat. While the United States Code does describe the removal of "headdress," or hats, as proper etiquette for the formal presentation of the flag and the playing of the national anthem, this stipulation has not traditionally been applied to women.

Today, though, with the popularity of unisex hats among women (such as a cowboy hat or ball cap), some women voluntarily remove their hat. To the best our knowledge, however, it is nonetheless not considered disrespectful if she chooses to leave it on.

At right: The national anthem being played at a women's ranch rodeo. In the background you can see many of the women have chosen to remove their hats, but at least one has not.

National anthem etiquette

Do you think it's acceptable for a lady to wear her hat during the National Anthem?
Tell us in the comments below!


Rodeo Announcers and Etiquette

At most rodeos, the rodeo announcer will probably politely remind you of when to stand and pay respect to the flag, and to remain standing during the national anthem. The announcer will likely not be overly specific as to the other guidelines of respect as contained in the United States Code (given above), so you should know these guidelines for yourself.

A rodeo announcer may also remind people to "remove cover," which is another way of reminding you to remove your hat.

Exceptions and Special Rules For Mounted Flag Carriers

As you might expect, there are some common sense exceptions to showing respect for our country, flag, and national anthem as described by the United States Code. For example, mounted flag carriers are generally considered exempt from removing their hats and/or placing their hands over their hearts because their hands are busy with riding their horses. Other exceptions may also apply.

While some exceptions apply to mounted flag carriers, they have other guidelines of respect for our country to follow. For example, a mounted flag carrier carrying the American flag (as opposed to a state flag or some other flag) should never follow another flag, but instead always lead any other flags that may be present. For additional information on guidelines for mounted flag carriers we suggest you see this page on the Drill-Fever.com website: Flag Etiquette For Equestrienne Drill Teams (<<< this link will open in a new window). While the page is intended for mounted drill teams, its rules of flag etiquette will usually apply to other mounted flag carriers as well.


Safety While Posting The Colors

Many rodeos will introduce the American flag and another flag (usually a state flag) in a manner called "posting the colors." When the colors are posted two riders enter the arena, each one carrying a flag, lope down opposite sides of the arena, cross at the back, then lope back up the sides and stop. It’s usually a matter of pride to post the colors at top speed (often called “rodeo style”) so most of the time the riders are running all out, or close to it, when they cross at the back of the arena.

Here at CowboyWay.com we're retired rodeo stock contractors, and some of the worst arena wrecks we have seen have happened at the moment when two flag carriers cross at the end of the arena. Many riders don't discuss beforehand which one of them will cross on the inside of the arena, and which one will cross on the outside. Galloping headlong at one another leaves little time to guess what the other rider is going to do, and if both riders choose the same path terrible collisions can - and have - occurred.

If you ever have the honor of posting the colors at a rodeo, be sure to talk to the other flag carrier and decide beforehand who will ride their horse on the inside when you cross, and who will ride on the outside. It's important to know beforehand, and could save you and your horse from a terrible wreck.

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