While not all Texans are cowboys, many cities in Texas host rodeos and livestock shows throughout the year. From small-town competitions to professional championship rodeos, there are many opportunities to witness this popular sport on your trip to Texas, especially if you visit during June through September at the height of rodeo season.
Rodeos in Texas can trace their roots back to Spanish missionaries, who taught their ranch hands the horsemanship they'd learned in Spain. Those early ranch hands evolved into the Mexican vaquero and, later, the American cowboy. Now, what started as an informal competition among these cowboys has gone on to become a multi-million-dollar sport with competitions all over the world.
If you're hankering for a good old-fashioned rodeo, be sure to check out these great shows all across Texas—from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to the Star of Texas Fair.
With total attendance topping two million, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a massive, three-week rodeo, fair, and entertainment extravaganza. Founded in 1932, the rodeo started a college scholarship program in 1957, handing out $2,000 in the first year, and the organization now provides $12 million in educational funding annually.
During the event, which takes place in February and March each year, contestants compete for $1.5 million in prize money in events like bronco busting, bull riding, and team roping. Along with the competition, there will also be a concert series that has previously featured acts like Reba McEntire, George Strait, and even Beyoncé along with Tejano bands.
The main rodeo is held at Reliant Stadium in Houston, while the fair and other events take place in the parking lot and several nearby buildings. In 2020, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will take place from March 3 through March 22.
Established in 1949, the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo attracts over two million people annually. Competitive events held every year include bareback riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, and bull riding.
One special feature of this rodeo (and many small-town rodeos across the state) is the Mutton Bustin' event, where the goal is for kids 4 to 7 years old to ride a sheep for at least six seconds. The rodeo also operates a Horse Education Center, where experts offer tips about owning and caring for horses and several breeds are on display including palomino, Peruvian, Arabian and miniature horses.
Musical acts at the rodeo are usually country artists, such as Miranda Lambert and Martina McBride, but occasionally classic rockers such as Styx and Journey are part of the lineup. The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo will take place from February 6 to 23, 2020, at the AT&T Center and the adjacent Freeman Coliseum, which is just 10 minutes from downtown San Antonio.
Founded in 1896, the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo (FWSSR) is one of the oldest rodeos in Texas, combining traditional rodeo events with a few offbeat offerings.
While most rodeo performers these days don't actually work at ranches, the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo devotes part of their event to working cowboys. In the Best of the West Ranch Rodeo, ranch hands compete in events that mimic real-world chores such as stock sorting and the always-tricky wild cow milking. The rodeo also has its own bar, the Rodeo Roadhouse, where rodeo fans can kick back, enjoy a cold beverage and do a little two-stepping.
The FWSSR takes place at the Fort Work Stock Show and Rodeo Grounds from January 17 to February 8, 2020.
Stockyards Championship Rodeo
No matter what time of year you visit Fort Worth, you can always catch a rodeo on Friday and Saturday nights at the Cowtown Coliseum, an indoor arena in the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District.
While the rodeos here aren't on the professional circuit, they're just as entertaining, and you can also catch Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show at the Cowtown Coliseum on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. While in the neighborhood, you can also check out the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and Billy Bob's, the world's largest honky-tonk.
Mesquite Championship Rodeo
Located just south of Dallas, the Mesquite Arena hosts its own championship rodeo every Saturday night from June through August each year. These family-oriented events also feature various competitions for kids including the Dash for Cash, where children compete to be the first to grab a flag attached to a calf let loose in the arena.
Along with a few rodeos dedicated to the official Mesquite Championship Rodeo, the arena also hosts themed rodeos throughout the season. Special themes have included 80s night, Dollar Dog night, and Hispanic heritage, but there are also nights dedicated to military service members, first responders, teachers, and breast cancer research. Mesquite Championship Rodeo also presents special rodeo events in November and December that often attract big-name rodeo stars during their off-season.
Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo: Rodeo Austin
Started in 1938, Rodeo Austin is a two-week event that takes place at the Travis County Fair Grounds in March each year. The rodeo itself is rated as one of America's top 10 best, with special events taking place every night of the week. In addition to the standard competitive events, the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo has pig races, a youth art show, a carnival, concerts, and a barbecue cook-off.
Education is also a key part of the rodeo's overall mission, and the organization has provided more than five million dollars in scholarships since 1981. In keeping with its community-minded focus, the rodeo started "going green" in 2010 and has since recycled over 120,000 pounds of livestock waste into all-natural fertilizer.
The Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo will take place from March 14 to 28, 2020.