A Newcomer’s Guide to Rodeo

Scared of cowboys? Clowns? And you want to go to the rodeo? Here’s what to expect.

The big one is coming. Perhaps it’s about time that you slipped on your cowboy boots and headed to the Salinas’ California Rodeo, the largest in the state. While many of us are drawn to the American West lifestyle, the rodeo itself is unfamiliar territory. Here’s some advice:

1. Don’t go to the rodeo. No, what we really mean is go. But don’t go to the actual four-day event July 16 ‘til 19. Instead, choose one of the many event-ettes leading up to it.

2. Test the waters with the “Cowboy Music and Poetry Gathering.” You’ll hear harmonica, a cowboy jazz and western bebop band, a 15-year-old play the fiddle, and a poet laureate speak verse. Plus, there’s barbecue.


3. The event-ettes, like Kiddie Kapers Parade (July 11), gives you an inside view. You’ll get to meet the community of Salinas, not the competitors who aren’t from around these parts. The rodeo may be the only sport that is formed around working class skills, like tie-down roping and steer wrestling.

4. Wander pre-event and see the Wells Fargo stagecoach. This transport vehicle is in The California Rodeo Heritage Collection Museum as are vintage cowboy attire and rodeo clown costumes.

5. PBR does not stand for Pabst Blue Ribbon. It’s Professional Bull Riding Competition, another pre-event. The rules: A rider must stay on for eight seconds. A perfect score is 100.


6. Clowns aren’t just for laughs. They help bull riders dismount by distracting the aggressive bovines. One year, Jeff “Slim” Garner rode into this rodeo on a yellow airplane, complete with a rider holding for dear life on the tail.

7. If you’re ready for the main event, here’s the lay of the land. Competitors (aka cowboys) number about 700. According to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, fans are demographically similar to NASCAR’s. But there are almost as many women as men interested in the sport. About 50,000 attend the California Rodeo.