Viva La Rodeo!

Rodeo Clown, photo by Jenny Schlax
During Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days the Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo is one of my favorite events. I discovered the Fiesta Rodeo a couple years back when I was looking for events to take my father to that did not center around drinking, would have well-behaved attendees, and that would be enjoyable for him – viva la rodeo!

Yet going to the rodeo in Santa Barbara can be somewhat precarious. People definitely have strong feelings about it one way or another. I happen to be a fan; I enjoy the well-mannered and well-dressed patrons, the patriotism and sense of community, the majestic and athletic animals, not to mention the BBQ and beer.

Bearing the contention in mind, I did some research. The Old
Frank Mechado
Spanish Days Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo is in its 90th year as a premier event for Old Spanish Days, with Rodeo Cowboy Association (RCA) events added in 1958 and Professional Bull Riding (PBR) incorporated in 2005. The Fiesta Rodeo spans four days and includes paid evening arena performances from PBR and PRCA, as well as other classes and competitions held throughout the day. One must live within the Tri-Counties to compete, and competition includes events for children and adults of all ages. More than a 100 ranchers, cowboys, and businessmen volunteer their time and equipment to organize this event. And each year since the late 1960’s, an “Old Timer” whose career contributed to the ranching community is designated the “Honorary Vaquero” of the Fiesta Rodeo. This year’s Honorary Vaquero was Frank Mechado.

In years past, I have only attended the PRCA events – which consist mainly of horse competitions. This year I decided to check out the PBR event – which is entirely bull riding. Again I did some research. The bulls used by the PBR are bred from a long line of bucking bulls. According to the PBR, this breeding program is the major factor that determines a bull’s ability to buck. A flank rope is positioned around a bull’s flank, in front of their hips, which creates the urge to buck. The flank rope does not come into contact with the bull’s genitals – which was rumored to me. Bulls are treated as family and in most cases, considered the stars of the show. They are limited to how long they can travel, how many bucks they can perform per day, and how many bucks they can perform per event. For more information, go to

The PBR event is Thursday of Old Spanish Days and well
Star Spangled Banner, photo by Jenny Schlax
attended. The line to enter the arena wrapped around Earl Warren. Once inside, attendees scooted close to each other to make room on the benches. The event started with a prayer.  Old timers then rode out carrying the American flag and made their way over for the Star Spangled Banner. Introductions were made for the competing bull riders, yet the big announcement of the night was the retirement of Bushwhacker – a nine year old, 1500-pound American Bucking Bull.  
Some rules were explained to me by my seat neighbors: A rider must stay on the bull for 8 seconds to score; the rider and bull are matched up randomly before the competition; the rider brings his own flat braid rope to “tie” himself to the bull, which drops off the bull once the rider does. In the ring were four horsemen with lassos that help coral the bulls after the rodeo clowns distract them from the riders. Apparently, bulls remember who rode them and will go after the rider. In the middle of the arena was a “shark tank”, a metal enclosure holding ten people picked from the box seats through a lottery and a cooler of beer. That was pretty crazy.  

Lasso-Man! Photo by Jenny Schlax
Upon entering the rodeo, you are supposed to receive a day sheet with the rider and bull names to use to keep score.  I did not.  This was a lesson learned after the fact. Names elude me, but the action was intense. We started with 40 riders, which reduced by half each additional round.  In the first two rounds, no rider was able to stay on a bull for the required 8 seconds. In the third and finally round, two men were able to make the 8 seconds, with scores of 85.6 and 89.
However, two riders were injured when the bulls were not able to be distracted and came back to trampled them. Some bulls were ornery, and refused to get off the field. They definitely have attitudes to match their girth.  The horsemen on the filed undeniably pulled their weight hustling the bulls back into the pens. In between rides the sideline and dancing arena announcers entertained the crowd. This was a tough crowd to entertain. 

BUSHWACKER, photo by Jenny Schlax
Alas the finale – Bushwhacker!  Although J.B. Mauney, reigning PBR champion, was not a winner tonight, he was the chosen rider for the retiring Bushwhacker. Mauney has ridden Bushwhacker 12 times, with his longest ride being 1.13 seconds. Bushwhacker is a beautiful animal, standing almost as tall and wide as a VW Bus (from where I was sitting).  He is absolutely HUGE.  The crowd cheered for him as he entered the chute. Mauney didn’t stand a chance. The moment Bushwhacker was out, Mauney was off. The official time was 2.56 seconds – which seemed a second too long for me.

This event was intense. I am not sure if I would attend again, the danger aspect and intensity is a bit much for this ole heart, but I am glad I got a chance to experience PBR for myself. After the show, I was able to stroll along the back area to talk with the cowboys and ranchers staying at Earl Warren and check on the livestock. Kids were running and playing amongst the horses, and ranchers were caring for the cattle. The bulls were resting in large stalls, bathing themselves in dirt. Paramedics were attending to the bull riders. The backstage scene rounded out the evening, and renewed my love of Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta Stock Horse Show & Rodeo.

Five fun facts about Rodeo
Fact 1:
Rodeo emerged from an industry of working with the animals.
Fact 2:
The roping contest has originally developed from cowboys who hold cattle for doctoring.
Fact 3:
There are rules that regulate the handling of the animals which were first put by Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) in 1947.
Fact 4:
Bull riding has become rodeo’s most popular contest.
Fact 5:
The term rodeo means to “go around” in Spanish.