The weekend’s 79th annual San Benito County Saddle Horse Show and Rodeo, which kicks off Thursday with the rodeo parade in downtown Hollister, will be a mix of tradition and new this year.
For the first time in nearly four years, the rodeo has seen a dramatic increase in participants in nearly every competition, as the younger generation is starting to make its mark on the San Benito County tradition, arena chairman Mark Skow said on Monday.
Nearly 430 cowboys are signed up to participate in three days worth of track and arena events at Bolado Park starting at 7 p.m. Friday, Skow said. The overall number is similar to year’s past, but most participants have signed up for more than one event.
“A lot of people have signed up for more events,” he said. “There are a lot more compared to just two years ago.”
The difference is the growth of the area’s youth, Skow said.
“I think that has a lot to do with it,” he said. “The next generation is starting to get more involved and enter some of the events. Most of our events you have to be 16 or older. And there are more interest in those events.”
Mixed in with the youth involvement, is the rodeo going back to its roots. The Saddle Horse and Rodeo revised the rules of the popular Wild Cow Milking contest to focus on more traditional cowboy skills.
Contestants will no longer be on the ground with the cows, instead the three cowboys will be horseback. Contestants will still have to tie down the cow and milk it before walking to the judges, Skow said.
The change aims to prevent serious injury but also to highlight more cowboy skills other than brute strength. The rules, which were originally changed in 2007, represent a more traditional rodeo.
“Before it was almost pre-written,” Skow said. “The strongest cowboys would win. This is great because it highlights more of the cowboy fundamentals.”
And the change has worked, as participants have climbed to a low of 14 teams last year to 21 this week.
Also returning are Non-Pro bull riding, saddle bronc riding and bareback bronc riding, bringing contestants from throughout California. Those events are the only ones to included non-San Benito County residence or past cowboy participants.
The three-day show starts with class elimination’s at 8 a.m. Friday at the Bolado Park Fairgrounds in Tres Pinos. The rodeo and horse show, though, officially begins at 7 p.m. The show continues at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The daily schedule was not completed before press time.
Featured entertainers include Clint ‘Wolfey’ Selvester as the rodeo clown and barrelman and Hollister-native Eddie Kutz.
Tickets to the show are available at the Bolado Park rodeo office and at Ranchers Feed. Tickets for adults on Friday are $7 and $4 for children under 11 years old. On Saturday and Sunday, adult tickets are $10.
Look online for the rodeo’s daily schedule when it become available.