Scenes from the rodeo

It’s rodeo time again. The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo is a big deal. It’s been going on since 1932, and in those years the rodeo has raised more than $330 million for agricultural scholarships, research, and educational programs.  It’s the largest livestock show in the world, and my fair city is the epicenter for all things rodeo. For 3 weeks every spring, people come from all over this great state and from farther afield to compete in all kinds of events. From bareback riding to calf roping to showing prized animals to producing works of art, the rodeo has it all. Then there’s the carnival, with rides and the most inventive fried foods ever conceived.

The first year we went to the rodeo, my kids looked like thisrodeo 007


rodeo 017

and they rode carnival rides like thisrodeo 020

Now they ride rides like this,img_2640

the highest set of swings in the world,

and this. Yikes166785_4879392221273_985662432_n

Read about our trip to the rodeo last year here, in which I feared for my life on one of these carnival rides.

While they’ve gotten bigger and more adventurous, one thing hasn’t changed: they still love to see the animals at the rodeo. IMG_0981

From the show ring to the petting zoo, the animals are the main attraction. IMG_0982

Some of the kids showing animals in the ring look so young, but they handle their animals with ease.IMG_0983

This little girl handled her 250-pound pig without a backward glance. IMG_0989

We took special interest in the pigs, of course. This one has similar coloring to our little piggie, but thankfully is a different breed. If Piper ever got this big, we’d be in trouble. IMG_0985

IMG_0986This black & white beauty grabbed a nap in the midst of the festivities, while this guy was wide awake and curious. IMG_0987

How could we resist that snout??

Watching these giant pigs walking to and from the show ring was fascinating. Although they barely glanced at each other as they passed, I kept expecting them to turn and sniff each other, and maybe even scuffle, the way dogs might.


Their handlers kept them on the right path by tapping them with a thin stick. We must get one of those for our wayward piggie.

These rodeo volunteers use yardsticks to keep the crowd back when it’s time for the larger animals to make their way to the show ring. IMG_0984

This pig needed to step on the scale before going to the show ring, but she wasn’t too happy about it. It took two guys to get her into the pen that holds the scale.

IMG_0990We stuck around to watch the battle, which the pig lost, and to see how much she weighed: 252 pounds!

Lots of babies are born at the rodeo each year. This little lamb made his entrance into the big wide world and was on display soon after.

IMG_0991This sweet Hereford was born just a few hours before we arrived. Mama looked proud, but tired. IMG_0995

Two litters of piglets were on display, as well. The Little Rascals were born last month and were running and playing. Their next-door neighbors, the Baconators, were a couple of weeks behind them but catching up fast. IMG_0993



There were more pigs in the petting zoo, including this little cutie. IMG_0997

There’s a phenomenon in our house called The Pig Flop, in which Piper enjoys the petting so much that she literally flops on the floor all at once, in one smooth movement. My favorite girl attempted to get a Pig Flop from each piggie in the petting zoo.

Including the pregnant piggies.IMG_1002

Of course she succeeded. She is the Pig Whisperer, after all.


We wondered if our little piggie would smell her rodeo relatives on us when we got home. It’s perhaps more likely that she smelled the deep-fried Snickers on Macy’s breath!

This llama won top awards for best haircut at the rodeo. IMG_0998

Not sure what that’s all about, but it was memorable.

And this little girl took the award for best t-shirt at the rodeo:IMG_0980

“If I can’t wear my boots, I ain’t goin” sums up the rodeo experience quite nicely. Lucky for her, boots are most welcome at the rodeo!

This isn’t my first rodeo

I’ve always loved that saying. Don’t know why, exactly, but I suppose it has to do with the directness of the statement, the idea that one can utter 5 words to clearly convey a depth of experience on the matter at  hand. The first time I ever heard it was in the movie Mommie Dearest…shudder. More recently, Payton’s 6th grade speech & theater teacher, Ms Pointer, used that saying at parents’ open house at the middle school. The first-time middle-school parents, trying to navigate the newness and independence thrust upon us and our little darlings, showed up at school with our kids’ schedules in hand and followed their class schedule for an intro to middle school by each teacher. From one end of the school to the other, upstairs, downstairs, down the hallway and back we traipsed, just as our kiddos do every school day. I tried to picture my 6th grader going from class to class in this giant building that houses some 1,100 kids, and was frankly, a little overwhelmed.

Ms Pointer, one of the more beloved teachers at FCMS, is direct and has high expectations–my kind of girl. She reassured all the nervous parents in the room that she would turn our babies from shuffling, eyes-downcast pre-teens to confident public speakers who present themselves proficiently and engagingly. My boy isn’t the most, uh, talkative, and I did worry a bit about his choice of speech & theater as his elective (“it beats band, orchestra, and choir” was his rationale). But Ms Pointer assured each parent in the room that night that she could work her magic and coax even the most reluctant kid out of his/her shell. “This isn’t my first rodeo,” she said. And she was right. Not only did my guy deliver his speeches with elan, he also learned to sew — with fabric, needle, and thread — a tiny costume for an action figure. He needed a Barbie or Ken doll, but seeing as his sister isn’t exactly the Barbie type, and his mama didn’t want to trek over to Target that day, we scrounged around in the discarded playthings box and found a Troy Bolton doll from High School Musical. My kid transformed the doll from teen basketball star to an ancient Chinese warlord in full battle gear, happily and with no needle pricks, thanks to Ms Pointer. 

But I digress.

I remember well Ms Pointer uttering that saying, and I thought of her yesterday as my favorite girl and I headed out for the rodeo. It’s a big event in these parts, and she had eagerly anticipated our visit. This year is the 80th annual Houston Rodeo & Livestock Show. For 80 years, my fair city has been putting on this event, and it’s quite the spectacle. For 19 days every spring, hordes of people come to the rodeo — attendance tops 100,000 on weekends. No doubt the rodeo has evolved over the years, and it now encompasses not just ropin’ and bull ridin’ and carny entertainment, but big-name performers, a world-class BBQ championship, horse shows, wine tastings, sheepdog trials, and all kinds of fun. The muttin bustin’ has quickly become a crowd favorite.

There’s plenty of swagger at the rodeo, from the giant belt-buckles on the guys to the sundresses & cowboy boots a la Taylor Swift on the girls to the 10-gallon hats on the seasoned ranchers. I especially liked the sign on this bull ride; the Sissy Boy part made me laugh.

Our first year at the rodeo looked like this:

My little cowgirl was 3, and she reveled in the sights and sounds of the big event. The cowboy next to her was 6, and was a bit more interested in the giant ice cream than anything else.

This is the kind of ride they enjoyed back then.

And this is the kind of ride my girl enjoys now. 

Let me state for the record that I am not an amusement-park kind of girl. I don’t enjoy the rides, the crowds, the footsore grumps who are tired of waiting in line. It’s not my scene. I’m also a little teeny bit scared of heights. And jerky motions. And flunky ride-operators who hold my life in their hands as they operate thousands of pounds of machinery that may or may not have been properly inspected. There’s even a website devoted to chronicling accidents on carnival rides, after all. Yikes.

But hey, my girl wanted to ride some rides, and she wanted me to do it with her. I’ve already faced the scariest thing I can imagine — a cancer diagnosis — so surely I could handle the Sky Flyer. Which happens to be the tallest swing ride in North America. Oh goody. Here we are in our swing, ready to soar over the rodeo crowd. I’m terrified. Seriously. My girl is in disbelief that her otherwise-fearless mama is actually riding this ride.

Aerial view as we began our ascent into the sky. Up high. Very, very high. Looking down at lots of pavement and people and pointy things that would not cushion a fall.

But we survived, with a complete absence of screaming and a minimal amount of cussing by me. My girl was very proud of me for doing something she knows is way, way, way outside my comfort zone. As we exited the Sky Flyer, a girl in her early teens asked me, “Is it scary? How high do you think it goes? Does it last long?” She must have recognized a fellow reluctant rider. I wish we’d stuck around to see if she was convinced by my answers enough to hop on.

But no, we had to hustle on over to the G Force.

My girl had heard about this ride or remembered it from last year or something. I can’t recall because I stopped breathing when I saw it and was focused on remaining upright as I saw people hurtling through the sky on this G Force of death.

Really?? People pay money to ride this?? On purpose??

20 people, in groups of 4, get strapped into this thing, which hurls them from side to side and around in circles as it swings back and forth, climbing ever higher into the sky. 

It swings in great arcs that cover a huge swath of landscape over the midway, traveling fast enough to elicit the unit of force equal to the force exerted by gravity. The force to which a body is subjected when it is accelerated by a crazy carnival ride. Which may or may not have been properly inspected. I’m thinking you’d have to be cuckoo to ride this thing. And lo and behold, there’s the cuckoo house right across from the G Force.

Well, guess who rode the G Force? Yep, that’s right–it was me. The gal who really doesn’t like rides. At all. Of any kind. The gal who is perfectly happy to hold purses, hats, cell phones, drinks–whatever, as long as I don’t have to go on a ride. The control-freak gal who hates putting her fate in someone else’s hands. Uh huh, I rode the G Force. All for my favorite girl. It was scary, ok terrifying really, and people were screaming. Some people were actually smiling. My girl reached over to hold my hand, and told me it’s ok to scream but please don’t cry. I did neither, although one time I extolled the ride operator to make it stop. For the love of all things sacred and holy, make it stop.

After surviving the G Force, we were ready to sample some of the fine delicacies the rodeo is known for, and the choices were plentiful. This one, we skipped. Ewwwwww.

This, however, is what my girl wanted. She’d never had a funnel cake and was jonesing to try it. 

She pronounced it heavenly, and only scowled at me a little when I encouraged her to throw half of it away. We won’t mention the giant stomach ache she ended up with after consuming half of that bad boy. We skipped the Cowboy Kettle Corn, but I do like the Texas-sized bag on the right.

Sweet Cheeks is well-known for its fried desserts on a stick. The fried Snickers bar made headlines when it debuted, and this year’s addition to the lineup is Fried Fruity Pebbles. Apparently they coat the cereal in melted marshmallows, form it into a rectangle, add a stick, dunk it in batter, and fry it. 

As the recent article in the Houston Chronicle says about the Sweet Cheeks booth, “it’s not a health-food store.”

Plenty of people lined up for the non-health-food-store wares.

After the sweets we happened upon the meats. The Texas-sized turkey legs are popular. 

Lots of carnivores were strolling the midway while gnawing on a turkey leg. Inside, at the livestock show, I noticed this sign about just how many turkey legs are consumed at the rodeo.

That’s bad news for this guy. Tom Turkey better rest while he can, because before long, it’ll be curtains for him, and lunch for someone else.

Seeing the animals is always a highlight at the rodeo. The local FFA kids work really hard to raise and show their animals, and hope for a big payoff. The rodeo has resulted in some $238 million in scholarships, research, and youth programs. 

This longhorn looked like he had something to add to the topic. Perhaps it’s that some 2,000 students attend more than 100 different Texas universities on livestock show scholarships, enjoying $30 million in school funds.

We saved the best for last at the livestock show: the birthing center. The tally board shows the babies born at the rodeo, and of course our eyes went straight to the column that lists the piglets. 

As of yesterday, 67 piglets had been born at the rodeo.

That’s a lot of little squealers.

We saw some of them, and could have stayed all day watching them. 

Yes, those are the mama pig’s hooves you see, and yes, they are indeed bigger than her babies. Mama pig weighs 600 lbs, so her hooves have to be able to support her heft. Those piglets are a week old, and their mama’s hooves could crush them. Miss Piggy is the proud mother of 5, all of whom were ready for their next meal.

Next to Miss Piggy’s little family was another brood named The Brady Bunch.

Why some of the mama pigs were in the clear enclosures with the scary-looking bars near their faces and some were in more friendly fenced enclosures I don’t know. Perhaps the scary-looking pens were for feeding and the fenced ones were for piggie playtime? The fenced ones allowed the piglets to run and play, and Macy and I loved watching them cavort like puppies.

Piglets galore! This mama pig snoozed while her little ones entertained each other. So did Jasmine, as her 5 piglets, named The Wrecking Crew, delighted the crowd with their piggie antics.

The Wrecking Crew at work. 

Seeing the piglets was the perfect ending to our rodeo fun. After gazing upon their little pink faces, there was only one thing left to do: go to the pig races!

To be continued….