At first glance, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo looks like any other rodeo.
Well, that wine tent seems out of place, as do the pig races on the midway. But a calf show is going on, and the scent of barbecued turkey legs makes my mouth water.
Martina McBride will perform after tonight’s event, and Reliant Stadium is full of fans and top-name cowboys. Cord McCoy—of CBS’s The Amazing Race fame—will win the bull-riding go-round the night I’m in town.
The gang’s all here.
But the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, pro rodeo’s sanctioning body, isn’t.
Last year, the PRCA declined to sanction Houston’s rodeo, which has been around since 1938 (the livestock show started six years earlier). Nor will it sanction this year’s event on February 28-March 18.
The rift seems to be because of the Cinch Super Shootout, Houston’s closing-day event that features bareback riding, barrel racing, bull riding and saddle-bronc riding. The PRCA demands that a rodeo must include all events (you know, calf roping, steer wrestling and other events that would make an animal-loving, vegan, urban rodeo novice cringe).
“As much as we don’t want to part ways with any good rodeo, the slope gets slicker and steeper when we allow someone, anyone, to choose the events they think are appropriate for ProRodeo,” PRCA commissioner Karl Stressman says.
He said that in a statement last year. I tried to get the PRCA front office to comment further, but they blew me off. I’m sure they were swamped keeping the Pine City, Minnesota, rodeo in check.
Pine City, Minnesota?
Leroy Shafer, the chief operating officer for the rodeo, had time to talk to me, but then, when will a Texan not talk to anyone? So I asked him, not having the PRCA has to hurt, right?
“Obviously not,” Shafer says. “Actually, the only difference in being sanctioned or not being sanctioned is to the cowboys themselves. The money earned doesn’t count in the standings for the National Finals Rodeo. As far as we’re concerned, there’s no difference at all.”
And, apparently, cowboys don’t care either. Last year, of the 280 contestants the rodeo invited, 279 accepted. The one who turned it down had retired.
The National Finals Rodeo is one thing. But a $1.6 million purse sings a louder tune.
The absence of the PRCA last year certainly didn’t hurt. Paid rodeo attendance was down slightly, but overall the event drew a record 2,262,834. That, of course, includes those who came to the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. And there’s no telling how many came in just to hit that wine tent. Or the pig races. Money-wise, Shafer says, 2011 was Houston’s best show ever.
Houston’s way—wine, barbecue, but mostly the rodeo’s format—is, Shafer says, the future.
“It’s absolutely the way rodeo needs to be done,” he says, “particularly if you’re dealing with urban audiences and particularly if you’re dealing with a multi-day show where the average spectator doesn’t go every night.”
What does the PRCA have to say about it? They still haven’t gotten back to me, but I’m sure the Willowdale Pro Rodeo in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, was demanding a lot of attention.
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania?
Houston isn’t crawling back to the PRCA. Shafer is excited about 2012, pig races, concerts, Cinch Super Shootout—everything.
“If you are a traditional rodeo fan, a casual rodeo fan or it’s your first time to see a rodeo, coming to see the world’s biggest stars competing for one of the biggest purses in the industry in a tremendous facility like Reliant Stadium is something you don’t want to miss,” he says.
If you’re a diehard PRCA groupie, I’m sure you’ll have a blast at the Pasco County Fair Championship Rodeo in Dade City, Florida.
Dade City, Florida?
Johnny D. Boggs wonders how his childhood sow, Rutabaga, would have fared in a pig race if he hadn’t eaten her.