Saddle Up: The 2016 Houston Rodeo Guide

This isn’t the most glorious year for Houston so far with oil prices having hit their lowest level in 13 years. That’s all the more reason to head to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It’s acres and acres of welcome — and, in many cases, economical — distractions.

Take a thrilling ride on the biggest Ferris wheel in the Western hemisphere. Check out the new honeybee exhibit. Celebrate Texas wines at a free tasting. Witness lady ranchers competing in the riding and roping skills needed to run a ranch at the new Women’s Ranch Rodeo Invitational. 

Dollars go further for those who plan ahead. Ride the low-cost MetroRail to the show (it’s so much easier than parking) and take advantage of Value Wednesdays. The ticket prices for admission to NRG Park and the upper decks at the rodeo are reasonable, and family activities like AGventure are free with admission.

Most important: Nothing comforts the soul like a good funnel cake. It may not be free, but it’s worth it!

International Days Program Packs a Big Boost for Houston’s Economy

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Committee has a huge responsibility — to provide top-notch Texas-style hospitality to guests from all over the world.

In 2015, the committee hosted 2,603 guests from 88 different countries. According to chairperson Julie Shannon, its overall mission is to enhance international trade development. “We partner with the Texas Department of Agriculture, ranch owners, cattle breed associations and international agriculture businesses. We form the bridge, and when the visitors come, we make it very hospitable for them,” she said.

During International Days, the committee maintains a vast hospitality room at NRG Center. The room has everything anyone would need to conduct business. It includes food and drink (area restaurants donate the meals), two bars, a business center, televisions and plenty of places for people to sit and talk.

Many of the visitors are interested in buying or selling cattle and in their genetics. They also want to see some of the best that Houston has to offer. That means staying in hotels, shopping at the Galleria, catching a performance at Wortham Center or dining in top restaurants.

During the 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the International Committee helped drive approximately $2.6 million in sales to international visitors buying livestock, semen, embryos and farm equipment.

Most of the visitors are from Central and South America. Because of the similarities in climates, cattle breeds that do well in Texas are likely to thrive in their countries, too. Those include Brahman and crossbreeds such as Brangus and Beefmaster. “They’re heat-tolerant, parasite-resistant and very efficient at converting grass into weight,” explained Joel Cowley, president and CEO of the rodeo. During the guests’ stay, the committee helps arrange visits to local ranches. This kind of relationship building is a very important aspect of the mission.

The more than 600 International Committee volunteers not only contribute time to promoting trade in Houston but money out of their own pockets as well. They visit at least one country a year at their own expense and also pay annual committee dues of $350. The money goes toward the committee’s hospitality expenses. “The committee members take absolute pride in hosting these international visitors and making sure that their experience is the best it can possibly be,” said Cowley.

International Days run from March 1 to March 8.

Saddle Up: The 2016 Houston Rodeo Guide
Images Courtesy of HLSR

Sip and Learn on Texas Wine Appreciation Day.

Visitors to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Champion Wine Garden will have an opportunity to taste winning wines from the 2016 Rodeo Uncorked! Wine Competition — for free.

“We’re always looking for ways to showcase our winners and want to pay tribute to the Texas wine market and encourage more Texas wines to enter the competition,” said Allyson Tjoelker, managing director of the Agricultural Exhibits and Competitions Committee. The committee joined forces with the Texas Department of Agriculture to develop the appreciation event. “What better way to provide exposure to these wineries than have a sampling?” said Tjoelker.

The wines at the tasting are from these award-winning Texas wineries:

• Becker Vineyards
• Brennan Vineyards
• Fall Creek Vineyards
• Flat Creek Estate
• Haak Vineyards
• Kiepersol Estates
• Messina Hof
• Pedernales Cellars
• Red Caboose Winery

Lucy Nashed of the Texas Department of Agriculture said, “This event was a joint idea between the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to build a stronger partnership and create opportunities to support the Texas wine industry through special events.”

Based on the total number of points earned from its award-winning wines at the 2016 Rodeo Uncorked! Wine Competition, Fall Creek Vineyards will be recognized by the Texas Department of Agriculture as the Top Texas Winery. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller will present the award during a private reception.

The joint support efforts will go on for some time to come. Nashed said, “We will continue to collaborate with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in future events to support the industry and exposure of Texas wines.”

The Texas Wine Appreciation Day tasting event happens on Thursday, March 3 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Saddle Up: The 2016 Houston Rodeo Guide

Inaugural Women’s Invitational Ranch Rodeo Highlights Skill and Savvy of Lady Ranchers.

Why would a bunch of ladies want to risk bumps, bruises, falling off horses, rope burns or getting kicked in the face by cows in front of an audience? For exactly the same reason as any male rodeo competitor: pride in their hard-earned skills. “When you can get a 1,000-pound beast to do what you want it to, it’s awesome,” said Stephanie Jones, co-president of the South Texas Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association (STWRRA).

For the first year ever, organizers with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo have invited the six top teams from the STWRRA to compete. “We’re seeing growth in women being interested in this,” said Tucker Knight, chairman of the rodeo’s Ranch Rodeo committee. “The ranch rodeo is much different than a traditional rodeo. We are exemplifying what a cowboy [or cowgirl] does on a day-to-day basis in real life. We bring in people that spend every day of their life on horseback and bring them into the spotlight to showcase their skills.”

The names of the specific challenges might not be familiar to city folks, but they are all skills needed to run a ranch. They include pasture doctoring, mugging and branding. The cattle aren’t big fans of these activities, so accomplishing the tasks requires strength and skill.

In pasture doctoring, a team works to separate a steer from the rest of the herd in order to be able to give it shots or medication. In place of an actual syringe, a colored gel stick is used during the competition to mark the steer on the forehead.

The branding competition doesn’t use a real brand, either. That would probably be too gruesome for the average spectator, although branding is important for identifying which cattle belong to which owner in case they get out of their fence or graze on a shared pasture. For the competition, the end of the branding iron is dipped in chalk. A steer must be roped, restrained and marked with the brand on his right side. The competitors are timed, and the clock doesn’t stop until the iron has been returned to the bucket of chalk.

In mugging, the teammates must tie any three legs of a steer as quickly as possible. The steers aren’t particularly happy about this.

The women’s ranch rodeo competitors are from 18 to 48, which means experience is just as important as youth. “We’re not all necessarily young, but the competition is certainly about being young at heart,” said Jones.

The Women’s Invitational Ranch Rodeo is on Friday, March 4 starting at 1 p.m. in the NRG Arena.

Saddle Up: The 2016 Houston Rodeo Guide

Things to See and Do at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

If you believe the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is just about farm animals and country musicians, think again. There are a huge number of exhibits, shows, auctions and activities. Families with children, artists, interior designers, wine buffs and people who just want to dance the night away will all find something fun to do.

While it’s certainly possible to drop a bunch of money on merchandise and carnival games, there are many things to see and do that are free with an entry ticket to NRG Park.

World Championship Bar-B-Que Competition
February 25-27

Some lucky folks will land tickets for the private parties in company-sponsored tents, but even those without can have a good time. First, buy a pack of discounted carnival tickets, then head to the Chuckwagon Tent for the traditional free chopped barbecue sandwich and sides. Sail across the sky on carnival rides and then meander to the Miller Stage at the Garden and catch live music performances by Bri Bagwell, Kevin Fowler, Jon Wolfe and other musicians. Still have some energy to burn? Kick up your boot heels at the Rockin’ Bar-B-Que Saloon. (Be sure to buy tickets to redeem for drinks.)
Thursday, February 25: 5 to 11 p.m.
Friday, February 26: Noon to 11 p.m.
Saturday, February 27: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Upcoming Events

February 25-27, March 1-20

The carnival, sponsored by NOV, runs concurrently with the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, then picks up again a few days later when the rodeo starts. The glittering centerpiece is La Grande Wheel, claimed to be the largest portable Ferris wheel in the Western Hemisphere. There are rides and games for kids of all ages, from wheels that spin riders so fast they defy gravity to fun houses. When hunger strikes, there’s everything from the expected, like sausage on a stick and turkey legs, to the unimaginable. Bug pizza, anyone?

Smart visitors buy the half-price carnival ticket packages sold until February 27, but those who miss out can simply buy tickets for 50 cents each onsite. Most rides require four to 20 tickets. To enter the carnival, you must have an NRG Park Admission Ticket, a Season Pass or a rodeo ticket for that day.
February 25: 6 to 11 p.m.
February 26: 4 to 11 p.m.
February 27: noon to 11 p.m.
March 1–13: 4 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays.
March 14–20: Noon to midnight Mondays through Fridays; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays.

Champion Wine Garden
March 1-20

The popular Champion Wine Garden is an annual favorite for relaxing and sipping with friends. However, did you know that some of Houston’s most respected wine professionals teach specialized seminars there, too? Classes last approximately 90 minutes and range in price from $40 to $65. Only 30 spaces are available in each, so it’s important to go online and purchase a spot as soon as possible. The scheduled instructors include Vanessa Treviño-Boyd of Lakeside Country Club, Denise Ehrlich of Renaissance Wine Marketing, Robert Gilroy of Möet Hennessy USA, Guy Stout of Glazer’s Distributing and Monique Studak of Pernod-Ricard USA.

The class includes six wine samples and some sort of snack, such as a cheese plate. Below is the list of seminars, some of which will be offered more than once.
Saturday, March 5, 1:30 p.m.: Wine and Pizza
Monday, March 7, 6:30 p.m.: Red Wine and Steak
Tuesday, March 8, 6:30 p.m.: Bubbles
Wednesday, March 9, 6:30 p.m.: Pacific Northwest and Award-Winning Pinot Noirs
Thursday, March 10, 6:30 p.m.: Cabernet Sauvignon
Friday, March 11, 6:30 p.m.: Reserve Wines
Saturday, March 12, 1:30 p.m.: Pool Wines
Monday, March 14, 6:30 p.m.: Wine and Pizza
Tuesday, March 15, 6:30 p.m.: Red Wine and Steak
Wednesday, March 16, 6:30 p.m.: Value Wines
Thursday, March 17, 6:30 p.m.: Reserve Wines
Friday, March 18, 6:30 p.m.: Bubbles
Saturday, March 19, 1:30 p.m.: Wine and Cheese

Seminars aside, general admission to the Champion Wine Garden is included with an NRG Park Admission or Rodeo ticket, but you must purchase drink tickets in order to imbibe. Purchase as little as a taste’s worth or as much as a bottle.

The Champion Wine Garden is open from Monday to Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m., Friday, 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.

Value Wednesdays
March 2, 9, 16

On Wednesdays, a $10 ticket gets admission to both NRG Park and upper-level seating at the rodeo. It’s the best deal for seeing the concerts and rodeo action (albeit at a distance).

Alternately, admission only to NRG Park costs just five bucks on Value Wednesdays. Seniors 60 and over and kids 12 and under get in free.

Other Value Wednesday deals include:
• $5 off a $25 or more purchase at any official Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo merchandise booth
• Value Wednesday pricing at various food and merchandise vendors
• From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., all rides, games and special food items in Kids Country Carnival are $2.

The Hideout
March 1-20

Where do the grownups go after dark? To the 21-and-over tent called The Hideout. There’s dancing, drinking and live music performances. Every night is a new musical act, including Bri Bagwell, Mike and the Moonpies, Cooper Wade, DJ Red Ritch and Justin van Sant. Performances start at 10:15 p.m. on weekdays and 8:30 p.m. on weekends. By the way, The Hideout has moved to the west side of NRG Arena for 2016.

Houston’s Up and Comers
March 1-20

The Statoil Stars Over Texas Stage is located in Kids Country, and it’s the place to catch bands just breaking into Houston’s music scene. Entertainment goes on throughout the day. The following performers take the stage at 7:30 p.m. on the dates indicated:
Saturday, March 5: 2014 Rodeo Rockstar Winner Triston Michael
Tuesday, March 8: 2014 Rodeo Rockstar Winner Triston Michael
Thursday, March 10: 2013 Rodeo Rockstar Winner StarFlightRocks
Friday, March 11: 2013 Rodeo Rockstar Winner StarFlightRocks
Saturday, March 12: 2015 Rodeo Rockstar Winner Tori Vourganas
Tuesday, March 15: 2015 Rodeo Rockstar Winner Tori Vourganas
Wednesday, March 16: London Lawhon
Thursday, March 17: Amanda Loving
Friday, March 18: Katye Hamlin
Saturday, March 19: Coffey Anderson

NRG Arena Events

American Quarter Horse Association Cutting
February 25

In a cutting competition, the goal is to keep a single calf separate (or cut off) from the rest of the herd. When a rider and a horse work in unison toward that goal, there’s a unique beauty and grace to the effort. The American Quarter Horse Association competition features teams at the peak of their abilities. The action starts at 8 a.m.

AQHA/APHA Calf Roping Challenge
March 6

This exciting challenge by the American Quarter Horse Association and American Paint Horse Association features riders on horseback trying to lasso a calf. Once the calf is caught, each rider has to dismount and run to tie three of the calf’s legs together in record time. The allure of this event includes the highly trained horses that hold tension on the lariat to keep the calf in place while the rider does the rest.

Donkey and Mule Show
March 10

Horses’ cuter and bigger-eared cousins get put through their paces in the mule pull, donkey snigging (that is, dragging a log behind them) and donkey single-hitch obstacle-driving contests. Also, the donkey and the mule with the widest spans between their ears will be awarded “Ear of the Year” titles. That would be a dubious honor for humans, but will likely make the animals’ owners very proud. Check out the happenings at 4 p.m.

AQHA Cowboy Mounted Shooting World Championship
March 20

On the final day of RodeoHouston, witness some real-life examples of what might be the world’s most popular image of a movie cowboy — racing around on a horse and firing a six-shooter. The “bullets” are just special blanks, but they can still pop a balloon 15 feet away. Hitting all the balloons is the goal as these cowboys race around the course, and kudos to the horses that have been trained not to “spook” at the loud noises. The action starts at 10 a.m.

NRG Center Events

March 1-20

Kids and their families can learn a great deal about farm and ranch activities at the AGventure exhibits, which are located in Halls A and B of NRG Center. Of all of these, the most exciting area may be the birthing center, where families can witness the births and nurturing of calves, piglets, lambs and baby chicks.

A new feature of AGventure this year is the bee education exhibit, where kids can see hives up close. Don’t worry: The hives are safely enclosed in acrylic housings.

Those are only two features of the extensive AGventure program. Others include Breed Row Barn (for learning about the different breeds of goats and cattle, for example), horticulture exhibits, the petting zoo, pony rides and the “We’re Small, Y’all” barn featuring adorable miniature cattle, pigs and goats. There’s no extra cost involved, either. All that’s needed to see all these educational wonders is an NRG Park admission ticket. The AGventure exhibits run daily from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Youth Boer Goat Show
March 1

Boer goats are a stocky, long-eared breed that was developed in South Africa. They are prized for their meat and hardiness. Kids as young as eight and as old as 18 will show off the prized goats they’ve raised. They’ll vie in junior and senior age divisions for Best Senior Doe, Best Junior Doe and Grand Champion Doe. The show starts at 8 a.m. in the East Arena of NRG Center.

Celebrity Dairy Goat Milking Contest
March 1

Being a member of the media has a price, and for some, that price is to demonstrate an “udder” lack of experience in goat milking. News writer Leif Reigstad is representing the Houston Press this year. Milking by hand is slow and messy, and let’s not forget about everyone who’s going to be around to catch the moment on video. Hurray! The media celebrity who gets the most milk in the shortest amount of time wins. (No pressure, Leif!) The fun starts at 4 p.m. in the East Arena of NRG Center.

Armed Forces Appreciation Day
March 2

On Armed Forces Appreciation Day, service men and women in uniform and with a military ID, as well as their spouses and children, will be admitted to NRG Park for free. The public is encouraged to dress in red, white and blue to honor the people who serve and protect our country. There’s a military working dog demonstration at 6 p.m. in the main arena of NRG Center and Armed Forces Appreciation Day entertainment all day at the Statoil Stars Over Texas Stage.

Black Heritage Day
March 4

Black Heritage Day, sponsored by Kroger, features themed entertainment all day on the Statoil Stars Over Texas Stage from a variety of bands, choirs, dance teams, cheerleader teams and fine artists. More will perform at the Champion Wine Garden and in The Hideout. Additionally, NRG Park will feature historical and educational displays. The rodeo performance by R&B/pop crossover star Jason Derulo at approximately 8:45 p.m. caps off the Black Heritage Day festivities.

Miniature Zebu Cattle show
March 7

This is one of the most interesting cattle shows at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. By age three, a certified miniature Zebu stands only about three and a half feet tall, and the calves look almost like fawns. They look mostly like normal cows when grown, except for their stature, and can still weigh 300 to 500 pounds. See these interesting creatures at 9:30 a.m. in the main arena of NRG Center.

Li’l Rustlers Rodeo
March 7-9

One of the best aspects of RodeoHouston® is the effort to be as inclusive as possible and allow members of the community to have a moment in the spotlight. This is the case with the Li’l Rustlers Rodeo, in which kids with mental or physical disabilities have a chance to compete in several activities. The challenges include a barrel race with stick horses, roping a steer head replica mounted on a bale of hay, and showing off their “bull riding” on a big plush seesaw rocked by cowboys. The smiles and cheers begin in the main arena at 5 p.m.

NRG Stadium Events

RodeoHouston® BP America Super Series
March 1-19

When people hear the world “rodeo,” their first image is probably of cowboys fighting to hang onto bucking broncos or bulls and cowgirls racing on horseback around barrels as fast as they can. That’s what the Super Series is all about, as well as bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping and tie-down roping. The purse this year is even bigger than last year’s: At stake is $1,748,000 to be divided among winning particpants. The size and scope of the RodeoHouston Super Series draw competitors from all over the world. Weekday events start at 6:45 p.m., and those on the weekends at 3:45 p.m.

RodeoHouston Super Shootout
March 20

The competition on the last day of the rodeo is the ultimate culmination of everything that took place during the Super Series. The top four competitors in each event have a shot at a piece of a total purse of $250,000. This is one of the richest one-day rodeo events in North America. Competitors will test their skills in bareback riding, barrel racing, bull riding, saddle bronc riding and steer wrestling. Individual champions will ride away with a cool $25,000 payout, and the top team walks away with $12,500. Of course, all competitors will earn serious bragging rights, too. The action starts at 3:45 p.m.

Rodeo Performances

Dust off the hat, shine up the boots and buy a new pearl-buttoned plaid shirt. This year’s RodeoHouston® performers will have you singing and maybe even kicking up your heels a bit. Longtime favorites Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban weren’t here last year but are back on the roster for 2016. Several performers who appeared last year are returning as well. Those are Miranda Lambert, Pitbull, Billy Currington, Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry, Brad Paisley and Luke Bryan.

Performers new to Rodeo Houston include R&B/pop crossover artist Jason Derulo; country artists Cole Swindell and Brett Eldredge; Tejano bands Los Huracanes del Norte and Banda Los Recoditos; pop singer Shawn Mendes; and country group Little Big Town.

Here’s the full lineup:

March 1: The Band Perry
March 2: Chris Young
March 3: Jason Aldean
March 4: Jason Derulo
March 5: Cole Swindell
March 6: Shawn Mendes
March 7: Miranda Lambert
March 8: Pitbull
March 9: Brett Eldredge
March 10: Luke Bryan
March 11: Darius Rucker
March 12: Billy Currington
March 13: Los Huracanes del Norte and
Banda Los Recoditos
March 14: Kenny Chesney
March 15: Kid Rock
March 16: Jake Owen
March 17: Florida Georgia Line
March 18: Little Big Town
March 19: Brad Paisley
March 20: Keith Urban

Monday through Friday performances: RodeoHouston® start time is 6:45 p.m., with the performers typically taking the stage between 8:45 and 9:30 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday performances: RodeoHouston® start time is 3:45 p.m.; performers typically take the stage between 5:45 and 6:30 p.m.

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