Sunday, January 18, 2015

More than a Century, and still Buckin'

The 119th Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, otherwise known as the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, opened Friday for a 23-day run.

In recent years, it has entertained as many as one million people who want to see the sights, ride the rides, and watch the rodeo. I was reading a newspaper article today touting the annual stock show parade in downtown Fort Worth as having an authentic Western feel to it. Well, since it actually IS authentic, no wonder.

Cowboys? Ranchers? You want to see real ones, who can work cattle with a horse, a jeep or a helicopter? The Fort Worth Stock Show is the place. No wonder the number of international visitors grows each year. People coming to Texas want to see Real Cowboys. Boy Howdy, this is the time and place to see them.

The first stock show and rodeo was a one-day event in 1896, held in January when ranchers and cowboys in Texas don't usually have so much to do. It was popular. And it grew. I think many of the current cow and horse barns were built in the 1930s, but you can look it up. More have been added on in recent years. The grounds are pretty large. Parking mostly is outside and you walk. A lot. Which can get dicey.

There's a reason the region refers to "stock show weather." I've attended stock show parades when horses and riders are jingling along in the start of a sleet storm. Usually, however, a few days of temperate weather in the 50s, 60s, maybe even touching 70, can be followed by massive freezing, sleet, and ice for several days at the end of January/early February. (In Texas, sleet and ice on the ground usually lasts no more than a few days. We go for years without any, so we don't regularly have equipment to deal with it when it hits. Stock show people simply deal with it.)

Despite the iffy weather, a midway and rides are part of the show. My admiration is high when teenagers in puffy jackets, jeans and athletic shoes or boots climb aboard a ferris wheel that is going to whip up the breeze when it is only 38 outside. Maybe that's just me.

I haven't been to the rodeo in years. I don't know if recent improvements on Will Rogers Coliseum have shut out the cold drafts, but some sort of jacket usually is nice to have. Families who have been coming for generations reserve ahead to get the same seats every year. Tickets sell out so fast, it is difficult to find any particularly at night. Matinees have a few more seats available. A spokeswoman called it a "generational event", and it is. A lot of families have years of history with this event.

It is truly an exhibition with every kind of product, tool and machinery for sale and on display. Demonstrations and classes are held. Every breed of horses, cattle,pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and so much more are judged. Human fashion shows leave me yawning, but I can watch for at least an hour while cattle to be judged are washed, blown dry, brushed, their tail tassels curled and their hooves shined. They are beautiful when ready to show. Other breeds also go through similar prepping. They are gorgeous.

I will say if you don't like the smells associated with livestock and hay, it's not your thing. The livestock show is a show for the people who grow the animals and bring them for judging and for the sales held during the show. You are very welcome to watch. Just don't get in the way.

Agriculture is still a viable industry in Texas, despite the drought. Not near so many cattle currently,though, in order to care well for the herds still here. Ag kids have brought their animals to the show for many decades, and the selling price of the Champion Steer still pays a majority of that teen's college education.

The rodeo is a classic, with a professional entertainer booked into the arena each year for a healthy contract. There's barrel racing, calf roping, steer wrestling, bronc riding, bull know, the usual. The big purses draw the top professionals in each category to the Fort Worth scene.

The Stock Show grounds are smack in the middle of the Fort Worth cultural district. The world-famous Kimbell Museum of Art is across the street, the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art with its collections of Remingtons and Russells is nearby (and free). The Museum of Science and History with its Amex screen is at one end, and Casa Manana theater in the round is at the other. The Cowgirl Museum is one of a kind, and there are other museums as well when folks get ready for a little change from the livestock. Participants do spread out. People who by profession live out of the city enjoy the culture and imbibe readily.

The stock and handlers come in by truck, but many of the ranchers fly in with families to enjoy the whole area while they are in the Metroplex.

When it began in the 1990s, the cultural attraction may have included a little seamier activity. Hell's Half Acre was once located where the city's convention center now stands in downtown Fort Worth. It provided women, gambling, and high-test liquor in quantity for cowboys ending a trail drive as well as competitors in the rodeo. Today, the city offers some mighty good restaurants, bars, and fine cigars.

The western kick to the cultural mix in Fort Worth makes it one of my favorite cities in the country. There's just nothing quite like it.

I think it's about time I visited the rodeo again.

It's been too long.

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