Out West at the rodeo

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 17, 2013

DENVER, COLO. — If you ever find yourself in Denver in the heart of January, don’t miss the National Western Stock Show.
If you like county or state fairs without the amusement rides, this is the place to be.
This year’s 107th edition of the show boasts of having 15,000 head of livestock with everything from chickens and rabbits to bison and alpaca. The 16-day event had 636,663 visitors last year to see the animal judging, the 350 vendor booths, farm equipment displays and the daily specialty shows such at the Mexican Rodeo Extravaganza.
On the day of my visit to the big show, the morning temperature in Denver started at 2 degrees and only rose to 15 degrees for a high during show time. Luckily, all the activities were inside warm buildings.
The week of shows began with a parade of Texas longhorns through downtown Denver, much like the parade of elephants when the circus comes to town.
The stock show is said to be “where the city meets the country.” Where the smell of hay, animal feed and cow manure blends with modern day city life. Where in 1906 there were four English breeds (Angus, Galloway, Hereford, and Shorthorn) of cattle in the show, there are now 20 breeds.
I learned that cowboy hats and boots are the style and the only fashion at the show. Hundreds of hats in all colors for men and women.
The leather and suede boots cannot be overly fancy. The plain cowboy boot is out. One vendor said the boot is like “wearing jewelry on your feet.”
Pink boots are big this year. Add any colors you like to your pink boots with any inlay or overlay pattern you like and it is in style. Another vendor said the boots were “eye candy.”
Interestingly, looking at hundreds of “genuine” western leather belts with the large ornate buckles, all were made in China.
A very popular booth had almost every type of mounted animal trophy head that you could imagine.
Bison, elk, deer, and on and on with some full bodies like a black bear lying on a tree limb. The bear was priced at $3,500. This area was a taxidermists’ dream world.
Next to the animal booth there was a chair with two six-shooter guns as the arm rests. I don’t know the price of the chair but the sign did say “don’t sit in this chair.”
The Mexican Extravaganza might be the most entertaining and exciting of the specialty shows.
The show opens with the mariachi band playing and the lady dancers dressed in full white dresses dancing.
The show combines bareback horsemanship, bull riders and bronco riders, with the pageantry folkloric dancers and Amazonas de Colorado team of women riding sidesaddle in choreographed patterned formations.
The tradition is that during the Mexican Revolution, the women riding sidesaddle were decoys drawing the solders away from the revolutionist fighters.
The show is a combination of American and Mexican cultures where the Mexican heritage relates to the Western rodeo.
The Mexican rancheros wear the traditional big wide brimmed sombreros that weigh about 5 pounds, while trying to stay on the back of the bucking bulls or bronco horses. Their dress is boots and spurs, vests, tightly fitted suits and a big western belt buckle around their pants. The dress is practical but historically correct. The skills of the rancheros in roping cattle were once used to stop stampeding cattle but now are part of the history of the taming of the west. It is hard to separate the art of the show from the history of ranching.
The trained horses trotted, sidestepped and even bowed to the crowd. They stood perfectly motionless while Charro Geraldo “Jerry” Diaz stood on the saddle doing rope tricks.
Diaz is the star and producer of the show. He is a fourth generation charro, a skilled Mexican horseman, with skills dating back to the 17th century.
His 9-year-old son, Nicholas Diaz, dressed in an Indian costume, is learning the craft with his horse doing tricks like sitting or lying down.
The traditional charreada differs from a western rodeo with the winners of events not receiving money.
It’s considered an amateur sport and winning money would turn it into a professional sport.
The show had the prettiest horses I have ever seen. Their coats were so shiny they glistened under the arena lights.
The native colorful Mexican and Navaho Indian costumes were breathtaking as the performers entertained.