Dear Reader, have you, like us, been dreading it just a little bit? Are you, say, loath to watch helpless calves get roped, heedless peeps thrown from crazed bulls or broncs, and/or grown men a-wrasslin’ steers? We are, too, a little.
AND YET. There are still reasons to acquire some young-uns (either your own, or your nieces and nephews, thus rendering yourself Aunt of the Year) and head on down to the Rodeo Grounds.
Most of these reasons, actually, have to do with the Stock Show. Not that there aren’t actual rodeo events worth checking out; you could go boo Toby Keith on Thursday night, por ejemplo. (Ahh, how things change. Back when one of us was a very small child, we were taken to see Freddy Fender at the Rodeo, and he blew our minds, creating a deep Fender love that lasts to this day.) But for really reals, there are some edutaining and creative events to peruse with your young charges, mostly involving conservation and petting critters, both of which we love.
The Rodeo also boasts some events whose titles on the press materials caused us to giggle fiendishly, till we figured out what they were.
We assumed this meant that sheep would be challenged to bare-knuckle (hoof?) fighting, but really it’s children attempting to ride sheep like woolly, uncooperative ponies. Which is actually funny.
Open Breeding Swine
Nope, not a big ol’ chick-a-bow-wow pink oinking orgy. Instead, a showcase of porcine friends from mixed pedigrees, rather than the full-blood thoroughbreds of the ivory-tower pig world.
We were all prepared to git on our knees and genuflect before a lanky, laconic, chaps-wearin’ angel, but it turns out it’s all about “nondenominational (which we bet means Christian) worship.” Dang. Rodeo worship has its perks, though. Tell the gate attendant you’re headed to Cowboy Church, and you’ll be let in free (service begins at 9 a.m. Sunday in the Auction Barn).
Much like the bustin’ of mutton, the Calf Scramble proposes a comedy of errors rather than a knock-down, drag-out; in it, kids between the ages of 12 and 18 attempt to halter a calf and walk him or her to the finish line. A project the calves may or may not be into.
The fairgrounds and Stock Show really are pretty fun. Some events this year that we’ve either tried out and like, or that seem promising, include:
The Texas Experience Pavilion
A diverse exhibition of all Texas products and resources, featuring local foods and wines (with samples!), wildlife exhibits, an ice-cream parlor, a live beekeeping demonstration (way cooler than it sounds!), National Park Service interactive history displays, educational resources on sustainable agriculture, rainwater harvesting, herpetology (yup, that means snakes), and a Youth Gardening Area to green-up the li’l ones’ thumbs. You can easily spend several jam-packed hours in here.
Silver jewelry, cheesy cowboy hats, really nice cowboy hats, saddles and equestrian tack, animal feed, hay bales, leather accessories, all kinds of fun, semi-cowpoke-esque toys, and old-timey bric-a-brac!
Sit down for a minute, eat yoursef a corn dog or some funnel cake (or sip a well-earned beer), and watch the kiddos bounce in a moonwalk or ride very gentle ponies in a rather slow circle under close professional supervision. The pony rides may not thrill, say, a 10-year-old, but a 5-year-old urban girl will be in heaven. HEAVEN.
Goats, llamas, burros, sheep. Sometimes beautiful birds of prey are displayed in a separate area. Mostly a quadruped-o-rama. The occasional wallaby. All cute. Total photo opp. Love!
After chasing the kids ’round the carnival and such, get everybody to walk through the spankin’ new horse barns. You can pet some of the horses, then sit down and look at the fancy horses walk around, trot, etc. This will get the kids calmed down before getting back in the car. Plus, the horses and their riders are all dressed up. A nice li’l extravaganza.
Old Tyme Medicine Man
In this live-action skit, a shady snake-oil salesman attempts to con gullible townsfolk out of their hard-earned money. If you watched much MTV in the ’80s, Old Tyme Medicine Man may conjure fond memories of Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s video for “Say Say Say.”
Our rodeo expert John Bloodsworth remembers poaching this show from the New Mexico State Fair back in ’84. “We used to call it ‘People’s Place,’” he told us. “It’s always been a free way for families to watch something fun and interesting. Now it’s cuter than ever — tiny baby pigs race around a track chasing an Oreo. The kids think they’re at the horse races.”
Aside from the obsessive animal grooming, which can be a lot of fun to watch (Mr. Bloodsworth even remembers seeing a herd of lambs being washed in Woolite and hairspray being used on livestock), junior auctions attract a lot of attention and support, for good reason. According to Bloodsworth, “A lot of these kids will grow up to put food on America’s table.” The remaining junior auctions (listed below) take place in the Auction Barn.
Jr. Lamb Auction: 5:30pm Thursday
Jr. Poultry Auction: 1pm Friday
Jr. Barrow Auction: 4pm Friday
Jr. Steer Auction: 9am Saturday
Jr. Goat Auction: 3:30pm Saturday
Get the full schedule at sarodeo.com.
Hurry! It ends February 21.