Those Chardonnay-Sipping Cowboys


Watch out—even the rodeo is becoming more diverse.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the largest rodeo in America, wrapped up three hectic weeks of events last month. The schedule included traditions such as bull riding, side-by-side with a full schedule of concerts and an international wine competition.

A wine competition at the rodeo? Some purists aren’t happy. Even though the competition actually takes place in November to select the wines to be served the following spring, many rodeo fans think it’s part of a campaign to systematically dilute the rodeo experience. In a sense, they’re correct. The organizers are trying to attract the largest possible audience—hence the appearance of performers such as Kiss, Janet Jackson and Lady Gaga. In addition, there’s a Black Heritage Day and a Go Tejano Day (many people believe that the latter event was scheduled after Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia withdrew as one of the parade’s grand marshals in 2009, presumably in protest over the rodeo’s lack of diversity). Visitors may now sip glasses of Chardonnay in a softly-lit wine garden, or visit a massage booth or a flower-arranging show.

This year, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association refused to recognize the Houston event, which meant that points earned by cowboys wouldn’t count toward the national finals. In order for it to be a rodeo, according to the Association, all six of the traditional competitions had to be included. The Houston rodeo eliminated calf roping and steer wrestling from the grand finale, for fear that it would make some observers uncomfortable.

The fact is that, even in Texas, urban centers are becoming more populous as rural areas thin out. Even though the rules now mandate that cowboys stop roping if an animal seems injured, the average suburbanite isn’t likely to spend six hours watching steers being tied up. It’s a far cry from the Houston rodeo’s founding in 1931, when Gene Autry was the master of ceremonies.

Of course, the rodeo won’t become really interesting until the cowboys themselves participate in the wine competition, or until wine experts start roping steers, but we’re probably a few decades away from that.


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