Houston Rodeo Show a Big
Barrel of Fun
Houston Promotions Coordinator
I was raised in a Midwest farming community, attending 4-H county fairs in muggy June, and the state fair right before returning to school at the end of an always sweltering August. I loved the animal barns -- seeing my baby sister ride an immense sow and being amazed at how many piglets she had scurrying about her; rubbing the soft, stubbly noses of the horses; the baby chicks just hatching in the light bulb incubators; studying the hand milking and trying to figure out just how that cow made milk from grass.
And, of course, there was all the food. The crispy, messy funnel cakes and elephant ears, the tart apple pies with oh so flaky crusts, the Silver Queen sweet corn on the cob dripping with real cream butter, and the incredibly colored cotton candy.
So I thought I knew what to expect when I took my kids to the Houston Livestock and Rodeo. Not even close!
Understand that the Livestock and Rodeo isn't the Texas State Fair. Fair Park in Dallas, where the State Fair is held each autumn, has 277 acres of permanent buildings and attractions that operate year round. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is not to be outdone by the State Fair. It takes place at Reliant Park which is composed of Reliant Center, the Astrodome, Reliant Arena and the amazing Reliant Stadium.
Almost as amazing, it will be concluding just when the USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo is in town.
In Reliant Center there are any number of small animal exhibits such as livestock birthing and a petting zoo, as well as trade show type booths. Reliant Center during the show is a child's dream come true and a lot cleaner than having your own barnyard. My then two-year-old couldn't get to each exhibit fast enough, and then couldn't bear to be torn away. Just outside Reliant Center are the pig races. Truly a sight not to be missed.
Reliant Arena is filled with larger animals like llamas, goats, cows, and horses, and horses, and more horses. The Arena is also the place to see the donkey and mule pulls. The animals in the pulls run the size spectrum from no taller than my knee pulling an adult human, to the size of a quarter horse pulling almost one ton of dead weight. The kids and I could've spent the afternoon being amazed by these incredible creatures.
For those not particularly interested in farm and ranch animals, there is a wine competition. Yes, you read it right. Last year, the Fifth Annual International Wine Competition featured 1,969 wines from 606 wineries and 16 countries, all vying for the prestigious title of Grand Champion Best of Show. Weird, especially for a livestock show and rodeo.
In barracks-style tents all over the grounds are the specialty foods. You can purchase any variety of barbeque (or BBQ) in beef, pork, or chicken and any sort of side that might (or might not) be appropriate. There's sausage with onions and peppers and all manner of Tex Mex food. You must find the "Deep Fried Anything" stand. They will batter and deep fry items such as ice cream, Oreos, Twinkies, and candy bars. Sorry, I just couldn't do it.
Between the Arena and the Stadium are the carnival rides. Although there is nothing particularly unusual or unique here, it does have an almost endless number of hair raising choices.
The Rodeo is held daily inside Reliant Stadium. On weekdays, the Rodeo begins in the very early evening while on weekends, it begins about 2 p.m. Seating is sold by section, not individual seat, and is part of the regular admission price which starts at $16.50. (The higher the admission price, the closer to the floor in the Stadium you get to sit.) The Rodeo is a chocked full event including: bareback riding, barrel racing, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer-wrestling, team roping, and tie-down roping. At the 2007 Show, champion men and women competed for a total rodeo purse of $1.275 million. In 2008, contestants will be riding and roping for a total purse of more than $1.3 million.
The odd thing about the Houston Rodeo is that the musical acts perform right in the middle of everything. Artists like Fergie, Brooks and Dunn, John Fogarty, Faith Hill, and John Legend take center stage for a 30 to 45 minute concert while the cowboys and girls go off to catch their breath and put ice on their bruises. After the final rodeo event, there is the spectacular indoor fireworks show (we can't have fireworks for the Rodeo rained out!).
Not specifically part of the daily rodeo, but held in Reliant stadium are the Calf Scramble and the Chuck Wagon Races. In an instant, 14 calves race away from 28 young people who are armed with only a rope halter. With kids and calves scattered about and darting in every direction across the Reliant Stadium floor, the Calf Scramble becomes one of the most chaotic, unscripted events of Livestock Show and Rodeo.
The Chuck Wagon Race harkens back to the days of trail drives. When the trail became tedious, the boredom was relieved by racing the unlikely chuck wagon with other teams on the trail. The last to arrive at the finish was the first to pay for a round at the town saloon. Although paying the bar tab is no longer the penalty, the competition is still just as fierce.
On a serious note, The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has provided over $9 million in scholarships for academically-qualified but financially needy Texas students. The best part of the scholarship is that the recipients aren't restricted to typical agriculture and husbandry type majors; students can major in anything!
There is even an art contest for high school seniors whose juried work can be viewed at Reliant Center. These kids, too, are eligible for scholarships. So although just going to the Rodeo assures a good time, it also supports a terrific educational cause.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will enjoy its final days during the 48th Annual USITT Conference & Stage Expo in Houston. You can take the light rail from downtown and be dropped immediately in front of the main entrance to Reliant Park -- just in case you'd like to take a look at one of the events Houston truly takes to heart.