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This year, the gaping hole in the rodeo lineup has finally been filled, since the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will be hosting two of the American Quarter Horse Association's world championships: the Versatility Ranch Horse Competition and the Cowboy Mounted Shooting events.
Cowboy Mounted Shooting is fairly straightforward. Riders maneuver their horses through a series of obstacles while firing off shots at strategically placed balloons, showcasing both their equestrian skills and their marksmanship.
"It's fast-paced and very easy for the crowd to understand. The results are instant, and people can tell when someone has done something wrong or when they're doing well," says Joel Cowley, Executive Director of Agricultural Exhibits, when asked why the rodeo has added this particular event.
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So for anyone who's ever watched a bull-riding competition and wondered about the seemingly arbitrary points system, the allure is easy to understand.
The organizers at the rodeo finalized the decision to add this event to the program after running a demonstration at last year's show and receiving high reviews.
Of course, as much as we gun-toting Houstonians love the idea of watching balloons get shot to smithereens, few are too keen on being caught by a stray bullet.
"There is no danger to the audience," says Crowley. "All the ammunition used is blank, and all the guns are single-action, so they have to pause between every shot. The balloons pop when the heated powder hits them, not the bullets. The only problem the crowd could have is with the noise."
The other new addition, the Versatility Ranch Horse Competition, is less about the rider and more about the horse. Its purpose is to focus on the skills that a truly gifted ranch horse should possess.
The event takes place in five segments: the Ranch Trail, Ranch Riding, Ranch Cutting, Working Ranch Horse and Ranch Conformation competitions. The cumulative score from each event will decide the world champion.
"These are the best quarter horses in the world," Crowley says. "This event is like a pentathlon, and it will show which of the horses is the best all-around athlete."
Both champion showcases will take place on March 2 and 3, in alternating times with one another in the Reliant Arena.
Versatility Ranch Horse and Cowboy Mounted Shooting World Championship
This combined event, which takes place over the course of two days, is a new addition to the show's lineup and will involve the talents of a quarter horse trained for ranch life in a five-course challenge, as well as a marksmanship test for mounted cowboys as they take on their fiercest enemy yet: stationary balloons. It begins at 9 a.m. on both days.
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Try the best entries from 700 wineries in 20 different countries at the rodeo.
The results are in. The champions have been chosen. It is time.
Every year for the past nine years, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has hosted its International Wine competition, and thousands of wines have found their way to the judging table to be taste-tested and classified.
Last year was no different. More than 700 wineries in 20 different countries sent in entries for the competition, and local, national and international judges worked together to pick the winners. Now the winning wines will be auctioned off at the Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Auction.
The event, in addition to providing an opportunity for publicity to a wide variety of wines and vineyards, is also one of the largest fund-raising occasions at the rodeo. Last year, the proceeds topped $1.2 million, and with the participation of so many wineries, the rodeo hopes to do even better this year.
The auction, which will take place on March 3, will not be the last time these wines are seen.
"The wines will be available for retail by the glass and bottle in the Champion Wine Garden all 20 days of the Rodeo," says the rodeo's Director of Agricultural Exhibits, Joel Cowley. "It's a beautiful setting and a nice escape if you want to sit down and rest."
The big winners also had another chance to show off when they were featured in the Roundup and Best Bites Competition on February 19. The Roundup gathered together 16 restaurants to battle it out with the help of some champion pairings until only three remained. At the end of the evening, awards were handed out to Royers Round Top Cafe (first place, Popular Choice), Valentino Vin Bar (first place, Trailblazing Appetizer/Entrée) and Ooh La La Dessert Boutique (Two-Stepping Bread/Cheese Dessert). This showdown was also when the champion wines officially received their awards, so it was a big night of congratulations all around.
As for the awards themselves, in keeping with the true spirit of the rodeo, the restaurants will receive belt buckles commemorating their victories.
"It's what differentiates us from other competitions. We give chaps, saddles and belt buckles to the winners," Cowley says. "If you go to those wineries or restaurants, you'll see those belt buckles hanging on the wall."
Unless you find your way onto the stage for the Roundup, or have some serious loose change lying around, the best place to find the wines is still in the Champion Wine Garden. It is located at the Carruth Plaza in Reliant Park and will be open from the afternoon to 11 p.m.