The 2021 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo will kick off Thursday, Feb. 11, with some major changes and COVID-19 precautions in place. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Area residents are dusting off their boots and getting ready to attend the rodeo even as COVID-19 retains its stranglehold on Bexar County.

The 2021 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo will kick off Thursday, Feb. 11, with some major changes and COVID-19 precautions in place, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo staff said in a statement Thursday. 

This year’s event will not include fairgrounds, attractions, or a carnival for patrons to attend, and it will take place inside the Freeman Coliseum rather than at the AT&T Center. Starting on Feb. 12, a limited-capacity crowd will be able to watch rodeo performances and musical entertainment, the Rodeo said in its statement.

“With the significant precautionary measures we have taken to provide a safe environment, we are grateful to host the Rodeo and fulfill our mission of helping educate the youth of Texas,” Executive Director and CEO Cody Davenport said. “These livestock exhibitors and their families depend on this opportunity for scholarships, and we are committed to helping them attain their educational goals.”

The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo raises thousands of dollars annually for youth-related organizations and scholarships. According to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo website, the event has awarded more than $223 million to the youth of Texas through scholarships, endowments, grants, and other programs since 1984. 

The rodeo’s youth-driven mission enables it to keep the annual event alive, Bexar County Public Information Officer Monica Ramos. Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders, youth-related events and rodeos may still take place at venues limited to 50% capacity as long as health regulations and guidelines are followed, she said. The county has followed the state’s lead in its restrictions, Ramos said.

The rodeo is permitted to be open under the Governor’s executive orders, said Jennifer Pue, a spokeswoman for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, in a Thursday email. Metro Health met with rodeo officials, reviewed their safety plan, and offered some recommendations, she said. 

“The Rodeo is a County event in a County facility, so operational decisions are up to the County,” Pue said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the San Antonio Report that while the City doesn’t endorse this type of large event, he is glad to see COVID-19 precautions are being put in place.

“I think it was wise to cancel the carnival,” Nirenberg said. “Any event that is conducted needs to be dictated and performed in accordance with the protocols that the conditions require. To suggest we’re going to have an unmodified event in the middle of a pandemic, I think, is unrealistic.”

Regulations such as social distancing, and requiring face-coverings will be in place, according to the rodeo’s statement. Temperature screenings will take place at every entrance, and sanitizing and handwashing stations will be located throughout the Freeman Coliseum. The facility will be held to 3,800 attendees, down from the rodeo’s annual 16,500 seats available within the AT&T Center, said rodeo Communications and Public Relations Manager Lauren Sides. 

Other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include switching to digital-only tickets attendees would store on their smartphones, utilizing an air-purification system in the Freeman Coliseum, restricting seating to socially distanced groups, and sanitizing all active rodeo locations with disinfectant every day, the rodeo statement said. 

The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo will have a designated group of trained volunteers that will encourage mask-wearing and social distancing, Sides said. These volunteers will be located throughout the Rodeo premises and will be active throughout the entirety of the rodeo’s performances, Sides said.

Sides added rodeo staff chose to hold this year’s performances in the Freeman Coliseum as it is “the most financially viable option” to hold the event “in accordance with health and safety guidelines while ensuring we fulfill our mission of helping educate the youth of Texas.”

Because of the pandemic, the rodeo’s fundraising events normally leading up to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo have been postponed until 2022, Sides said. 

While several San Antonio residents said they will be sitting out this year’s Stock Show and Rodeo, many San Antonio rodeo diehards are still planning to attend. 

“[I go] as much as I can,” said Bulverde resident Erin Archer. “Last year [my husband and I] made it to six rounds, I believe. From what we’re told, it is limited seating with [spacing] between groups, so I think the precautions are appropriate.”

New Braunfels resident Megan Dugie said she also plans to attend this year, as it’s very important to local youth.

“I will be there,” Dugie said. “This is people’s livelihood, and the show must go on. Along with the stock show, so many kids [devote themselves to] their animals. [They or their parents] spend thousands [of dollars] on raising livestock, and these kids deserve to show off their hard work. I will proudly be in attendance.”

San Antonio resident Leslye Hernandez said she will be forgoing the annual event this year and plans to wait until vaccine rates are up to attend anything like the rodeo.

“I have isolated since March – I’m not about to blow it by being in a congregate setting,” Hernandez said. “I have already given up 10 months of freedom. Honestly, it is irresponsible to have the rodeo.”

The return to the Freeman Coliseum will be the rodeo’s first in almost 20 years. The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo moved to the AT&T Center in 2003, after which the Freeman was used as grounds for vendors to sell Western wares. For more information about the 2021 Stock Show and Rodeo, such as to view the performance lineup, click here.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick contributed to this report.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...