By guest contributor from Cowboys & Indians, Dan Oko
Dr. Scott Greiner, a livestock judge at the 2013 San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, walks down the line of champion steers with his hand held high. Young ranchers from the region’s 4-H clubs and the National FFA Organization hold tight to the animals’ leads, waiting with bated breath for that hand to comedown on the haunches of the winner — recognition for the years of hard work that go into growing top-caliber livestock. With a quick turn worthy of a flamenco dancer and the barest glimmer of a grin, Greiner smacks a 1,311-pound, cream-flanked Charolais steer named Eminem on the rear.
“Un-bull-eve-able!” crows 17-year-old Jonathan McAnulty, Eminem’s owner, who has raised the muscular steer from birth. It is an exclamation the high schooler has obviously practiced in case this moment should arrive. Through the school year and the steamy Lone Star State summer, McAnulty has greeted the dawn — even on weekends — to take care of Eminem. Now comes his reward. “It’s indescribable how great this is.”
Since it started, the rodeo has grown in prestige and popularity. In 2003 the PRCA added San Antonio to its select roster of Hall-of-Fame rodeos, and today arena superstar Trevor Brazile counts it among his favorites. What’s more, since its inception the rodeo’s charity has paid out more than $134 million in scholarships, grants, endowments, auction funds, a calf scramble program, and show premiums paid to young people. Giving totaled $11.3 million in 2013 alone, including the record-setting auction of Grand Champion steer Eminem for $120,000.One could apply McAnulty’s assessment to the entire San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, which turns 65 this year. Each February, the festive event attracts more than a million attendees, offering nearly three weeks of entertainment ranging from professional bull riding and working cowboy competitions to cooking demos and rock concerts.
Meanwhile, visitors find a lot more to do than just attend livestock sales and charity events. Beyond the confines of the AT&T Center, where the sawdust arena is being prepped for the afternoon’s PRCA-sanctioned action, the San Antonio fairway is abuzz with shopping and snacking opportunities for all tastes. The hazy midwinter sun is warm, and folks who aren’t in boots step out in T-shirts and sandals as they peruse treats, farm vehicles, and souvenirs. The heart-stopping fried offerings include a “Bacon Bomb” containing a battered combo of peanut butter, chocolate, and everyone’s favorite pork product topped with powdered sugar. Families and young couples vie for spots at the food court picnic tables, noshing and comparing notes on turkey legs, giant beef ribs, and other popular fare from culinary-minded vendors.
Additional areas are dedicated to the Texas Wildlife Expo, which includes an excellent reptile exhibit beneath the Fang Tent; environmental displays from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department; and the Horse Show in the Exposition Hall. The equine center showcases barrel racing, donkeys, mules, cutting horse demos, and auctions. And of course there’s the enormous carnival with rides ranging from mild to wild. For many, the carnival is almost as important as visiting with the livestock.
This being San Antonio, with its rich connections to Hispanic heritage, strolling passersby enjoy the brassy sounds of a Tex-Mex conjunto band spilling out of the Corona Cantina tent. The polka-like notes of an accordion remind all that today’s West represents many cultures. Across the way, the Stock Show & Rodeo Hall of Fame is the place to go for history buffs. There are photos of past Grand Champion steers dating to the 1950s. Given that Eminem has just brought in more than $100,000, it’s remarkable that the 1950 champion brought $8,550, paid by the old St. Anthony Hotel. Early programs sold for 50 cents (today’s sell for $5) and boasted performances by “hillbilly entertainer” Eddy Arnold and singing cowboy Rex Allen.
The prices may have gone up, but musical entertainment remains a major draw for the rodeo, with recent years seeing a slew of chart-topping performers, including Nashville stalwart Alan Jackson, Aussie wunderkind Keith Urban, and the pop-tinged upstart Lady Antebellum.
With a $1 million purse, the rodeo is one of the richest in North America, and San Antonio officials are quick to point out that partnerships with the nation’s top stock contractors mean that the crowds are not only treated to super-talented human competitors, but also the best animal athletes in the world.
On Saturday, with her husband, Trevor, looking on, Shada Brazile wins the 2013 barrel racing championship while riding a 7-year-old gelding named Big Boy. The win earns the cowgirl $16,866 in prize money, but Shada doesn’t get to hold it for long. By the time Brazile speaks to reporters, her husband has quietly pocketed his wife’s winnings. “Imagine that, he already took my check,” she says with a laugh.
San Antonio provides lesser-known working cowboys a chance to shine in the spotlight as well with the regional Ranch Rodeo Finals, in which top hands and cattle crews from South and Central Texas show off their skills. With a $20,000 purse at stake, this competition features rough-and-tumble events not ordinarily seen in professional rodeo arenas, such as calf branding, a timed event that calls for cowboys to immobilize a yearling weighing up to 350 pounds or more long enough to simulate a brand. Each of the six qualifying teams feature five cowboys, making the ranch rodeo much more about teamwork than individual glory.
The contests also reflect skills that might actually come in handy on a cattle ranch. Take steer loading, which requires getting a balky cow into a trailer without trapping any of the cowboys inside. A crowd favorite is the rescue race, a horseback relay with two riders sharing the saddle, with the cowboys using different horses as they transfer the team, man-by-man, from one end of the arena to the other. It’s quite a sight.
With the Ranch Rodeo Finals wrapping up, cowboy Randy Yow of the second place Paloma Cattle Co. climbs aboard the cattle trailer and pulls a back flip worthy of NASCAR champ Carl Edwards. Yow’s back flip may surprise some considering that his team has not won the top spot, but he’s still celebrating. Same goes for Trevor Brazile, who did not place in his preferred event, team roping, but spins his wife around in celebration.
San Antonio has never forsaken its cowboy heritage. And from the PRCA competitions to the Western art on display, that proud lineage is still at the heart of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
This year’s rodeo will take place February 6-23. For a Trail Guide to San Antonio and advice on planning your trip, visit www.cowboysindians.com. For more information, call 210.225.5851 or visit www.sarodeo.com.To watch the finals of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, make sure to tune in to the Wrangler Network this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. CT.