Come February, I’ve always loved pulling on my favorite cowboy boots – bright red as a child, candy pink as a teenager, and now deep brown boots from Lucchese – and heading to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. Also known as the San Antonio Livestock Exposition, the event hosts more than one million visitors each year. It began in 1854 when San Antonio hosted the first Texas Agricultural Fair, expanded when Joe Freeman opened the Freeman Coliseum in 1950, and expanded again when it moved into the AT&T Center in 2003.
The Western Heritage Parade & Cattle Drive acts as a kind of warning shot to San Antonians that rodeo season is upon us. Look for hundreds of steers and costumed riders on horseback parading downtown on Saturday. The parade starts at 11 a.m. next to Christus Santa Rosa Hospital and follows Houston Street to Alamo Plaza where vendors and activities will be hosted from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Rodeo itself is a performance that takes place once a day, while the Stock Show, open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 12–28, includes animal barns, events, auctions, food, carnival rides, and educational exhibits for all ages. Whether this is your first time, or you’re looking to get back in the saddle, The Rivard Report has a guide for your eight-second ride.
The Rodeo runs once a day, in the night or afternoon. There is bareback riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, bull riding, and the ever-charming Mutton Bustin’, where children ages four to seven attempt to ride sheep for six seconds.
The Rodeo is always followed by a concert, usually of the Country music variety, but occasionally something different. Most people plan their visit to the Stock Show and Rodeo by the musician performance schedule. Which brings us to…
There is no shortage of music, both during the day at the Stock Show, and at night at the Rodeo. A few highlights include Joe Nichols, best known for “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”, on Feb. 12; Keith Urban with his popular upbeat Country hits on Feb. 14; John Legend, a beautiful man with a beautiful voice and soulful ballads, on Feb. 16; Brad Paisley with his bass vocals and Country ballads on Feb. 19; the Eli Young Band’s fun, slightly rock-y country on Feb. 20; Reba McEntire’s get-up-and-dance songs on Feb. 23; and Justin Moor’s classic Country on Feb. 24.
The Stock Show and General Events
In addition to endless horse and cattle barns that you can wander through, there are cattle auctions, horse sales, and countless day-time events, including swine races, cowboy poetry readings, wine tastings and tractor shows. The Cutting Horse Show is particularly impressive, where horse and rider work as a team to separate individual heifers from a herd. Horses have to perform with very little direction from their riders, and the show is face-paced and engaging. There are breeding shows for swine, goats and sheep, and cattle.
A carnival, with ferris wheels and games, is open every day, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., starting on Feb. 13.
Food options range from Mexican, to “Giant Hamburgers,” to classic campfire cooking, and the old fairground favorite: the turkey leg.
There is no shortage of shopping for all that is ranch and rhinestone. You can buy everything from tractors to horse trailers, cowboy boots to cow skin rugs. There are tools, cookware and ranch attire (whether you consider work jeans or rhinestone belts appropriate).
The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo has donated more than $147 million to the youth of Texas through scholarships, grants and endowments, and many of the offerings at the Stock Show and Rodeo are focused on engaging and educating children. Most activities are located together in the Family Fair section.
The Texas Wildlife Expo is a great place to start. They have live animals, including a leopard, cobra, python and Guenon monkey. Their events, many of which run daily, include “Bats, Mysteries and Myths”, with information and hands-on activities to educate children about the benefits of bats and the importance of conservation; meet Smokey the Bear and pledge to help prevent Texas wildfires; and the popular “Kachunga and the Alligator” show, where a real American Bushman handles a deadly 9 ft long, 300 lb alligator.
Continuing on the animal theme, the interactive Animal Adventures exhibit features a truly charming section where you can watch baby chicks hatch. The Horse Discovery section of the Stock Show runs information sessions all about horses suitable for both children and adults, and runs horse shows on weekends. And of course, no visit would be complete without a trip to the ever-popular petting zoo, open all day every, day.
The Youth Rodeo Show, which starts at 8 a.m. from Feb. 16-18, features rodeo events for Texas 4-H and FFA members, including roping competitions, barrel racing, goat tying and team roping. If your children are inspired, a Cowboy Boot Camp teaches them how to milk a cow, lassoing and steer roping. There are also crafts and face painting, and pedal tractors for the younger set.
The Little Buckaroo Farm Kids, sponsored by H-E-B and open all day every day, offers visitors a chance to see the agricultural origins of their food and textiles. The Dairy Center teaches children (and adults) about all aspects of milk production, including milking demonstrations. There are the opportunities to see a live beehive and try milking a goat. For adults, there are experts to answer gardening questions and offer advice, and information about limited-space gardening and greenhouse growing.
The Historical Ag Truck, which is open every day from noon until 7:00 pm, teaches children about life in a covered wagon, with demonstrations and interactive activities including grinding corn and churning butter.
Whatever your interests, be they classic Country or cattle auctions, the best way to plan a trip is to look at the program for the day of your visit, and see if there are any timed events that interest you. Otherwise, you can just wander and explore. The weekends naturally offer more events, and I’ve always found more in the way of animals (including my personal favorites, the fancy chickens) towards the beginning rather than the end (the last few days can be a little lean).