Saddles, spurs, and smiles

It doesn’t get more quintessentially Texas than the rodeo, but what makes San Antonio’s shine is its Mexican influence, finds Rashmi Narayan.

Paid partnership with Visit San Antonio

Saddles, spurs, and smiles

It doesn’t get more quintessentially Texas than the rodeo, but what makes San Antonio’s shine is its Mexican influence, finds Rashmi Narayan.

Ask any Texan and they will confirm that the Lone Star State is rodeo country, particularly in February.

Visiting San Antonio during the annual Rodeo and Stock Show, the iconic paraphernalia won’t be hard to find: as I walk around the showground, I see cowboy boots, Stetson hats, shiny belt buckles and catch glimpses of back-breaking saddle bronc riding.

But beyond the cliches, a San Antonian rodeo features great camaraderie between the contestants, friendly Texans who are here to have a good time, and an enthralling preview into the blend of American and Mexican cultures through pageantry, livestock shows, music and art.

“Everything is bigger in Texas – our smiles, our hospitality and our snacks too,” smiles 24-year-old rodeo volunteer Jaidyn Allen, a San Antonian who has been accompanying her father to the rodeo since she was seven years old.

“Now, I know that a lot of these livestock barns smell bad, but to the kids here, this smells like money. They have to juggle this life with school too. A lot of us take time off work to be here as volunteers, because if it weren’t for the rodeo, half of us wouldn’t be able to go to college.”

The event attracts over 1.5 million visitors each year and the money collected helps raise funds for scholarships to help educate young Texans. Beyond its entertainment value, a rodeo also highlights the skills needed to operate on a ranch.

A classic Texas rodeo has cowboys showing off their athletic abilities – from roping calves to bull riding.

All adhere to strict rules and guidelines laid out by the rodeo-sanctioning body The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).

“You know you’re in San Antonio at this rodeo,” says Cody Davenport, Executive Director and CEO of the rodeo.

“The most common misconception visitors have is believing that life here is like the series Yellowstone and we knock down those barriers to show them how it’s really done.

“Everyone here has a role to play. The horses come from a certain lineage and are born to buck. Some of these kids you see here are home-schooled as they live and breathe the rodeo, handing in assignments on the road.”

In San Antonio, the traditions between Texas and Mexico run deep. On one of the first nights of the rodeo, the Noche de Vaquero (Night of Cowboys) pays homage to the Mexican rodeo. The national anthems of both nations are sung followed by live music by talented local artists including mariachi bands.

A key part of the Noche de Vaquero is the vibrant charreada, which showcases age-old Mexican equestrian and livestock traditions and offers a peek into the fascinating world of Mexico’s rodeo culture. The cowboys called charros and their female counterparts called escaramuzas, both play an integral role in the charreada.

The charros and escaramuzas, dressed in floral, rhinestone-embellished attire, participate in a parade called La Marcha de Zacatecas. The charros demonstrate their talents at various competitions, but the most daring of all is the Paso de la Muerte (Pass of Death) where a charro riding bareback leaps from his horse onto another speeding horse without reins until it stops running.

An impressive feat I witnessed was the escaramuzas dressed in traditional attire, known as adelita (referring to the brave women known as adelitas that fought in the Mexican Revolution), work in teams and compete in a choreographed synchronized side-saddle horse riding.

“It’s not just pageantry, it is all a tribute to the skills taught and exchanged between Texas and Mexico,” says Sean Hay, the chairman of the rodeo committee.

For the last three decades it has been his idea to include a charreada in the San Antonio rodeo, as a celebration of the Tejanos – Texas-based descendants of Spanish Creoles.

For a year-round Tejano experience, take a short taxi ride to the north of San Antonio, to The Tejas Rodeo Company in Bulverde. This quaint ranch, which also boasts a classic Steakhouse and Saloon showcases all things related to Tejano culture.

Every Saturday between March and November, one can expect to see Tejas-related paraphernalia on display such as customised belts, wallets, hats and boots along with barbecue from the smokery and family-friendly shows followed by live music.

Back at the San Antonio Rodeo and Stock Show for a second day, we witness the American version of the rodeo, which is all things that are characteristically Americana. There are daredevil acts of bull riding and saddle bronc riding as well as cowgirl events such as breakaway roping and barrel racing.

“I rode my first sheep when I was four,” says 21-year-old bull riding rodeo champion Lukasey Morris. Having journeyed from Oklahoma, competing in rodeos and working on ranches is the only life he has known as his father rode bulls for years.

Morris says he has always wanted to be a rodeo professional and though winning is great, contesting in the rodeo isn’t an easy journey by any means.

“It’s all peaks and valleys for sure, and my plan is to get better each year.” There are activities for children too and the most popular of them all is mutton busting. Children aged between four and seven ride sheep by holding on to them as long as they can with the farthest distance winning a prize.

After the competitions, many sway to the tunes at the following concerts. I was captivated by performances from Campanas de America, an award-winning musical ensemble mariachi band at the Noche de Vaquero.

It’s no wonder that music legends like Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash have also graced the stage at various rodeos across the USA, and why the traditional goes from strength to strength today.

Need to know

Getting there

San Antonio is served by various one-stop flights through British Airways, American Airlines, United, JetBlue, Delta and Virgin Atlantic.

The San Antonio Rodeo and Stock Show takes place at the Frost Bank Centre (home of the San Antonio Spurs) and is approximately 10 mins drive from Downtown.

Tejas Rodeo Company is located approximately 26 miles north of the city centre (30 mins drive).

Best time to go

San Antonio has reliably balmy weather throughout the year but spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit with many festivals on the calendar and plenty to do.

The San Antonio Rodeo typically takes place in February.

Where to stay

There are plenty of options to suit all budgets in San Antonio.

Thompson San Antonio – Riverwalk by Hyatt. A contemporary hotel with Texas touches such as cowhide rugs. Its stunning rooftop overlooks the city’s landmarks such as the Tower of the Americas and the Pearl District.

Must-pack item

Good walking shoes and layers as the evenings can get chilly in February. Cowboy boots may make you feel like a local, but make sure they are comfortable as you will be walking a lot in the rodeo arena.

How to do it

San Antonio is one of the most walkable cities in the US. For a more leisurely experience, explore downtown and the River Walk area on foot or by bicycle. There are numerous bike rental stations and plenty of pedestrian-friendly paths.

Alternatively, for places further away, visitors can utilise ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, which are widely available and very affordable.

Anything else

To find out more about the San Antonio Rodeo at sarodeo.com

Find out more about Tejas Rodeo Company.

Beyond the rodeo season, San Antonio also celebrates its annual colourful Fiesta during spring and hosts a grand Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival every autumn.

FEATURED TOUR:

America As You Like It | 7-Night Texas Rodeo and Ranch Holiday

America As You Like It offer a seven-night rodeo and ranch package. Prices start from £1,932 per person including car hire and return flights from Heathrow with stays at Hotel Indigo and Dixie Dude Ranch.

Find out more.

More information

This article was brought to you in partnership with Visit San Antonio.

San Antonio is a city steeped in rich history and culture, offering a unique blend of tradition and modernity. Known for its iconic attractions such as the historic Alamo Mission, the scenic River Walk, and the lively Mexican Market Square, San Antonio also appeals to visitors with its diverse culinary scene, lively festivals, and warm hospitality.

Go to VisitSanAntonio.com for more details, suggested itineraries and booking.


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