The sport of rodeo has an incredibly rich history that can trace its origins as far back as Spain in the 1500s. More than just a bunch of cowboys roping cattle, what we know as the sport of modern rodeo came to be through the melding of American, Spanish, and Mexican cultures and the hard work that was put into handling cattle in the American Southwest during the early 1800s.
The word rodeo is borrowed directly from Spanish and translates as ‘to round up’. Indeed, the skills used in rodeo are derived from the techniques used by vaqueros (Spanish horseback-mounted livestock herders) and cowboys to catch cattle and break horses for practical purposes. In the United States, this eventually turned into sport as neighboring ranches would hold exhibitions that pitted ranch hand against ranch hand to see who was the most skilled.
Eventually, prizes were given to the winners, annual meets and festivals featuring rodeo were held, and the sport's popularity continued to grow. Typical events that many rodeos feature are tie-down roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, and barrel racing, but many events feature events that are unique to their area as well.
Today, though “cowboy” as an occupation has waned considerably, the sport of rodeo has not. Rodeo has become a billion-dollar industry, and huge rodeos can be found all over the United States, Mexico, and parts of Canada .
Usually found in conjunction with festivals or county fairs, there are countless small-town rodeos throughout the nation that promise to pack in just as much thrills and excitement as their larger counterparts. Read on to learn about five great small-town rodeos that are sure to have you hollering “Yeehaw!”
Pendleton Round-Up - Pendleton, Oregon
Though it takes place in a small town in northwest Oregon, the Pendleton Round-Up is one of the most anticipated rodeos in the country.
A tradition for more than 100 years, the Pendleton Round-Up has grown to feature 11 rodeo events, attracting tens of thousands of spectators. The whole town celebrates during Round-Up week with multiple parades, family-friendly shows, and a kick-off concert that has starred the likes of Reba McEntire and Brooks and Dunn. This small-town rodeo is much more than just a celebration of the exciting sport, it is an exploration of the diverse cultures that make up the American northwest, creating an event that is perfect for young and old.
Offering prizes that exceed $600,000, this week-long small-town rodeo is one that should not be missed.
The Sheridan WYO Rodeo - Sheridan, Wyoming
Started as a way to help put its namesake on the map almost 100 years ago, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo has been a showstopper since 1928.
From its inception, this small-town rodeo in Northern Wyoming has managed to attract spectators in droves, with an astounding 20,000 visitors stopping by in its first year alone! The annual rodeo that takes place the second weekend in July continues to bring in tremendous crowds with its impressive lineup of events.
The Sheridan WYO promises a festival-like atmosphere with its huge annual kickoff celebration, carnival, nightly parades, 5K run, pow-wow featuring a celebration of the region’s proud Native American culture, tailgating extravaganza, golf tournament, art exhibition, street dance, and four-night rodeo event.
Rockdale Fair and Rodeo - Rockdale, Texas
The Lone Star State is home to some of the most spectacular small-town rodeos in the country. For over 45 years, the Rockdale Fair and Rodeo, held every year in October, has been among the best Texas has to offer.
While chock full of the traditional rodeo events, the Rockdale Rodeo promises guests small-town fun on a level all its own.
The annual concert promises big-name acts from the country, Tejano, and Rock and Roll music scenes. Visitors can have fun as spectators at the car show, tractor pull, and livestock show. Foodies can get their fill at the BBQ cookoff and carnival that hosts food trucks from around the country. All this and more is in addition to all of the bronc-busting excitement from the headlining rodeo!
Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede - Wolf Point, Montana
Big Sky country is another mecca for the sport of rodeo, and the granddaddy of them all is the Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede in northeast Montana. For over a century, this rodeo has been exciting fans for three fun-filled days in July.
In addition to the typical rodeo events, the festivities surrounding the Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede are vast and include:
- Country music concerts
- A pancake breakfast
- Nightly street dances
- A golf tournament to benefit Breast Cancer research
- A carnival featuring a wide array of food trucks
- A grand-opening parade
- A stick-horse round-up just for the kids
There is something for everyone at this small-town rodeo!
West of the Pecos Rodeo - Pecos, Texas
Located near Big Bend National Park, the West of the Pecos Rodeo is the oldest continuous rodeo in the history of the sport, making it a can’t-miss stop on this small-town rodeo tour.
Offering the typical events found at any small-town rodeo, you’ll find a couple of fun extras here.
The Boot Scramble is a fun time for the kids. Youngsters are split into three different age groups where they take off their boots in the center of the area, run to a designated site, then run back to the center to find their own boots and put them back on. The little buckaroo with the fastest time in each category is the winner.
A couple of fun team events include the Hide Race and the hysterical Wild Cow Milking competition.
Visitors are in for a fun-filled weekend full of exciting rodeo events, great food, and fellowship when they set out to experience all that this long-running rodeo has to offer.
Small-Town Rodeos: Small but Mighty
There are countless rodeo events across the United States that tap into the frontier spirit and history of the wild west. From professional venues where the best of the best compete for millions of dollars in cash prizes to tiny events where amateurs gather to cut their teeth, bucking broncos and roping steers can be accessible to just about anyone interested in this dangerously exciting sport.
While the big-city rodeos may offer glitz and glamor,small-town rodeos offer something a bit more unique. These hidden gems tend to have a truly local flavor and offer a unique look into the traditions and history of our great nation. Visitors of all ages and walks of life are sure to walk away with new appreciation for this sport that is uniquely American.
Though these rodeos might be small in size, they are mighty in fun and excitement.