Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: By the Numbers
• 2007 general attendance: 1,806,129
• Volunteers: 19,000
• 2008 educational commitment: more than $10.6 million
• 2007 wine auction total: $775,500
• 2007 Grand Champion Steer sale price: $300,000
• 2007 Grand Champion Wine: $125,000 for Clos du Bois, Marlstone, Alexander Valley, 2003
It starts with the clatter of horses' hooves.
Some 6,000 riders--many of whom left home days, even weeks, in advance--stream into Houston from every corner of the region. Traffic helicopters swarm overhead. Crowds gather to watch the cavalcade as it skirts the edge of the traffic-clogged streets. News of their arrival sends a current of excitement through the city.
On Saturday, when horses and riders from all 13 trail rides, along with a collection of colorful floats and marching bands, finally roll into downtown for a grand parade, everyone in the city knows. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is set to begin.
Lasso Some Fun
For more than three weeks, rodeo fever consumes the city. Nearly 2 million visitors pour in from around the world for this all-out, Texas-size celebration. It may seem over the top, but this is no two-bit show for down-on-their-luck cowboys. This is the world's largest, with only the top 50 competitors invited and a prize purse of more than $1.3 million.
What's more, the rodeo is accompanied by a huge stock show, a spectacular carnival with dizzying rides and every fried food imaginable, and a nightly concert series with a star-studded lineup. It takes a small city of volunteers--about 19,000 in all--to organize and run the event.
Big and Bright
Even if everything is bigger in Texas, as natives are quick to point out, it's still a surprise to some that the world's largest rodeo and stock show resides in Houston. This metropolis left its cow town image in the dust years ago. With an economy built on energy, aerospace, and technology, it's now the fourth largest city in the nation.
Yet deep in the heart of every Texan lies the soul of a cowboy. It's more than an occupation. It's an attitude, and that's what built this place. Even if they've never ridden the range or herded cattle, folks here see this event as a way to celebrate Houston's Western heritage.
"The rodeo brings this city together," says The Rev. James M.L. Grace of Houston's Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, who was tapped to bless the annual wine auction. "It brings people of different backgrounds together to raise money for education, to celebrate the beauty of life, and honestly, to have a real good time."
The livestock show, rodeo, and carnival all take place at Reliant Park, a 350-acre spread about 8 miles southeast of downtown just off the 610 Loop.
"Hello, Houston! Are you ready?"
Announcer Bob Tallman's booming voice shakes the rafters of the 71,500-seat Reliant Stadium. After the Grand Entry--a parade of horses and riders, dignitaries and politicians, fire engines and vintage wagons--the lights go dim, and the National Anthem begins to play. With hats off, all spectators turn their eyes to the arena floor.
Niki Moran, a daredevil blond standing atop a golden palomino, gallops around the dirt-covered oval. In her hand, she hoists an American flag with sparks shooting from the pole. As she completes her ride, fireworks explode in the top of the stadium.
This spine-tingling opening sets the stage for the seven PRCA-sanctioned events--bareback riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping, and barrel racing. Trick ropers and rodeo clowns entertain between events.
A hilarious calf scramble, where 28 kids race to catch one of 14 wild calves that they'll exchange for a purchase certificate, wraps up the rodeo and leads to a world-class concert. This year, the lineup features stars such as Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Miley Cyrus (aka Hannah Montana).