Actually, it’s the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but we just call it “the rodeo” or the “Houston Rodeo”. I won a sort of departmental lottery drawing and scored a free ticket to my company’s suite at the rodeo. It was during a weekday, so I took a half day off and left the office before noon.
The Houston Rodeo is a popular venue as it is one of the biggest and most well-known rodeos in the world. I love it! My favorite part is the riding and roping, but there is so much more to the rodeo than just that, as you will see from my photos in this post.
On this particular day that I attended, the place was PACKED! Of course, it was during the Texas schools’ Spring Break and it was also Family Day at the rodeo; discounts on tickets and various other items were offered and pretty much the entire city of Houston decided to take advantage.
The first thing I like to do is visit Reliant Arena, where the demonstrations (weaving, bee keeping, milking), shopping, and most of the food is selling. Wall-to-wall people and kids. Barely room to move. Got a few shots, but not as many as I might have captured had I arrived first thing in the morning. I love the birthing area, but naturally that was slammed. People can watch cows, sheep, pigs, and goats give birth before their very eyes. With commentary. It’s quite educational, and great for city folks who don’t normally spend much time around real live farm animals.
I never noticed this before, so I assume this is a new thing – flower arrangement competitions. I could never get a really nice shot – too many people around – so I had to opt for close ups. Orchids were a huge theme in a number of these arrangements.
And of course, I always stop by my favorite bronze statue (there are a number of bronze sculptures right next to the stadium). This year, I was kicked out by a guy at the wine garden because this sculpture is located smack-dab in the midst of the seating, and the wine garden would not open to the public for another 3 hours or so.
After an extended period of walking around with no place to sit, my poor feet began hurting. I do this every year; I like to “rodeo up” and wear cowboy boots, but with the exception of people actually participating in some shape or form at the rodeo, everybody else (i.e. the general public) wears comfortable jogging or tennis shoes (aka “trainers”). I need to remember to do that next year, rather than try to look “western”.
I wandered through the carnival.
I bought 10 tickets for $5 (it takes more than one ticket for a ride, folks) and took a nice little ride on the sky chairs (that uses up 8 tickets) across the length of the carnival. At one point, the ride stopped while I was at the top – I wonder if they did that just for me so I could get some great shots
Some of those rides make me nauseous just watching them. It takes an iron stomach to handle them and I just don’t have an iron stomach.
After the sky chair ride, I decided to opt for some quiet time and made my way across the carnival to the horse arena, where a small horse show was taking place. I don’t know what the judges look for exactly, but this understated competition required riders (mainly women but there was one young man) to get their horses to walk-jog-lope-walk backward-maneuver around a sort of semi-obstacle course. I saw some beautiful horses out there (and some pretty fancy riding outfits).
From there, I wound my way back to the stadium to wait for the moment they opened the and I could find my seat. You see, at the time, I didn’t realize I had a ticket to my company’s suite; I just thought I had a ticket to a decent seat on the 2nd level. Lemme tell ya – that suite is sweet! Awesome view of the arena, food, drink, in-suite bathroom, a full-time attendant, plus little extras that make life good while watching the rodeo.
Naturally, I was all about the photography. For these arena shots, I used my Canon 16-35mm for the wide angle, and the rented Canon 100-400mm for the close ups (love that 100-400; it’s next on my “to buy” list). Considering I was up in the 2nd level and not right down where the action occurred, I was pleased with the results. I bumped the ISO up to between 1250 and 4000, so I could get some nice shutter speeds for the action. Naturally, I had to use a little noise-reduction software on some of these shots (but not all of them).
Before the ridin’, ropin’, calf scramble, barrel racing, and live music performance take place, the Grand Procession parade wends its way around the stadium.
No event is complete without a mascot. I don’t know what his name is, but he’s the “H” symbol for Rodeo Houston.
And what event is complete without cotton candy (aka candy floss).
Then the lights go off and we all stand for the National Anthem. This evening, it was sung beautifully by a local boys choir. While the anthem is played, a lovely young lady (usually a blonde) races around the stadium riding bareback and holding the American flag from which spew fireworks near the end of the Anthem.
“….and the rockets’ red glare….”
And now the action begins.
First: Bareback Bronco Riding
I would have loved to have been one of those photographers down there.
After the bareback bronco busting came the calf roping.
I only got one shot of this because I got into a conversation with one of the other suite attendees and I didn’t want to be rude. Sigh. Unless you are a photographer, you can’t realize the pull and desire to have it be all about the photography; to try and capture every moment that you are able to with your camera. Oh, this is not a “forest for the trees kind of thing” – the camera wasn’t up to my eye for every single move – I did remember to take the viewfinder away from my eye and just watch the action. But, I did want to make as much use of the situation as possible, and that precluded conversation, for the most part. That’s just the way I am.
After the calf roping came the bronco busting (with saddle ). The events alternated ends of the arena, with the bareback bronco riding, the saddle bronco riding, and the bull riding taking place on my end, while the calf roping and steer wrestling took place at the other end of the field.
FYI, for the bronco busting, they specifically train these horses for their role.
Clowning around – this particular rodeo clown is a fixture out there and has been working the Houston Rodeo since God was a little boy.
Now comes the bull riding, which is when you see those rodeo clowns. In addition to being entertaining and even acrobatic, the role of the rodeo clown is very important, and pretty dangerous. Once the bull rider is finished – be it by falling off, or actually making it through the entire timed event – it’s the job of the clown to pull the bull’s attention away from that bothersome human who was riding on his back, and guide the bull back to its stall (although usually the bull seems to know where its stall is and it goes there on its own without any help).
These bulls are BIG and MAD.
Send in the clowns!
Next comes the calf scramble, which everybody loves to watch. Thirty high-school-aged young men and women are out there to try and catch one of 15 calves. They then have to harness the calf and walk (drag) it back within the white square. If they manage to do that, then they are given a calf to care for during the year and enter in competition the next time the Houston rodeo roles around. It’s chaos out there, and very entertaining.
The final event before the scheduled music for the evening is the barrel racing. This is an awesome competition to watch. Women riding their horses ninety-to-nothing come racing out of the gate, circle around three barrels (trying not to knock them down) and then race back through the gate in a timed event. The riders and horses act like a single unit, and must be able to round corners on an extremely small turning radius in order to make the best time.
After the competitions, the music performance gears up. Big names – and smaller venues – perform at the rodeo, including Reba McIntire and ZZ Top. That evening, it was a sibling group called The Band Perry. They don’t like people to photograph the entertainment (especially with big lenses like the one I used), so I put my camera away. I left shortly after the performance began because I have a long drive home, it was late, and I had to go to work the next morning.
Got home at 11PM, got to bed at 11:15, fell immediately asleep and was rudely awakened at 4AM to start my work day (keeping my eyes open was a little tough that day). Needless to say, I didn’t start working in earnest on these photos until Friday.
Once again, I had a fantastic time at the rodeo. If any of you are ever in the area during the last week in February and the first three weeks in March, you ought to try to attend this event, for the sheer experience and – if you love using a camera – for the multitude of photo ops.
(Note – different hair color, different year – it just made a good ending photo for this post)
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