The fun starts with the parade through downtown at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 28. Thousands of horses will fill the skyscraper canyons with the sound of hoofbeats (and the aroma of fresh country air).
Rodeo competition begins on Tuesday, March 2, when talented cowfolk will strap on gloves and chaps, screw their hats on tight and compete in such timeless events as bareback bronc riding, barrel racing and tie-down roping. Sunday, March 21, brings the Xtreme Bulls event, in which 30 of the roughest cowboys (wearing some of the toughest athletic supporters) will go up against some of the rodeo's rankest bulls in a classic man-versus-beast contest. Any day you go, you'll see a calf scramble, rodeo clowns and a high-speed chuck wagon race. With each sponsor clearly emblazoned on the wagon's canvas, may we suggest some friendly wagering?
Then there are the entertainers. The rodeo is a great opportunity to catch some country super-duper stars. Highlights include George Strait (March 3), Alan Jackson (March 9) and the Red Headed Stranger himself, Willie Nelson (March 21). There's plenty of bubblegum and alterna-pop on the schedule, too, like John Mayer (March 2), Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson -- still together! -- (March 16) and bootylicious hometown sauce Beyoncé (March 18).
The Horse Show will take over Reliant Arena starting Wednesday, March 3. Events that draw the crowds are roping (March 10 and 17), the Youth Quarter Horse Show (March 13 and 14) and the Donkey and Mule Show (March 19 through March 21). About that last event, pull your mind out of the Tijuana gutter -- the show features a mule pull, obstacle contests and "Ear of the Year" awards for animals with the longest, well, ears.
Meat eaters can perform the ultimate transgressive act at the Livestock Show, which kicks off Thursday, March 4, at Reliant Center. Buy a bag of beef jerky and munch it as you walk around staring at live meat on the hoof. You'll also see world-class sheep, pigs and fine examples of the noble longhorn steer. And don't forget the shopping. Even if kountry krafts aren't quite your thing, you can still pick up a pearl-button shirt or a tooled leather belt with your name on the back.
When the smell starts to get to you, head out to the parking lot for the Rodeo Carnival, featuring roller coasters, a Ferris wheel and midway games (March 2 to 21). And if you really start to feel like an urban cowboy, drop $6 -- and maybe your pride -- and ride the mechanical bull stationed in the Reliant Park East Parking Lot. It won John Travolta a girl's heart, and he got thrown on his first ride.
Reliant Stadium complex, One Reliant Center, 832-667-1200, www.rodeohouston.com. For information about the ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run, see Sports/Outdoors. For information about the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, see Urban Experience.