Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Trail Rides
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is Houston’s signature event and brings together millions of visitors to participate in concerts from top entertainers, championship rodeo, livestock competitions, great food, auctions, and more. Part of the show’s purpose is to give Texans and visitors a chance to break away from modern life and return to the classic age of Texas’s heritage. This is the perfect opportunity to rent an RV in Houston if you want to stay close by. However, nothing exemplifies Texas history better than the show’s trail rides, a tradition stretching back over 60 years. Each year, before the Rodeo starts, thousands of trail riders travel 13 different routes, all arriving in Houston the day before the opening parade kicks off the start of the Rodeo. It’s a true Old West tradition that many people participate in enthusiastically each year. Makes you wonder if a covered wagon qualifies as a camper rental. LOL! This year the show runs from March 1 – March 20, 2022.
History of the Trail Rides
The first trail ride was held in 1952, 14 years after the first Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 1938. That first year, a group of 4 men rode on horseback from Brenham, Texas to Houston to draw attention to the Rodeo. They were highly successful, and the following year, 80 people signed up for the ride, which became known as the Salt Grass Trail Ride. The tradition grew quickly. In 1954, 800 people participated, and today over 3,000 riders take part. They travel by 13 different routes covering almost 1,800 miles. Although the tradition of trail rides has grown exponentially over the past 64 years, they still look much the same as they did when they started. Riders travel by horse and wagon and do their best to relive the conditions of the Old West, albeit with some modern conveniences.
There are 13 different trail rides starting in different locations. The trips range from a few days to a few weeks, with participants usually riding about 15-30 miles each day. The shortest ride, Texas Cattlemen’s Trail Ride starting in Montgomery, Texas, is 70 miles long. The longest is the Los Vaqueros Trail Ride, starting in Reynosa, Mexico and covering 386 miles. Other notable rides include the Salt Grass Trail Ride, the original route that started them all. This route travels 90 miles from Cat Springs to Houston every year, as it has done since 1952. The Old Spanish trail, the second-longest after Los Vaqueros, travels 216 miles from Joaquin to Houston, and they are well known for travelling close to 40 miles at a time.
Traditions and Stops
Each trail is a little different, but they all celebrate a sense of history and traditional cowboy culture. Many families make it a tradition to participate in the same trail ride every year, and previous generations of their family have participated in the past. Each ride, then, feels like a connection to those ancestors. A number of trail groups have special traditions to honor those ancestors. On the Northeastern trail, for example, the riders circle their wagons each night and morning to say a prayer honoring their ancestors. Many other groups have traditions that emphasize community involvement. A number of trails, such as the Prairie View trail stop along the way to perform in parades for local schools. Others, such as the Sam Houston trail group, raise money for their local fire departments or churches. Many trail groups raise money for scholarships for local students and students who participate in the rides. For many trail groups, being part of the trail ride is a year-long commitment, and they hold community events throughout the year. In this way, the trail rides have grown to become a tradition that impacts whole communities. The trail groups help to support important community institutions and share the history of the Old West.
An important part of each trail ride group is the trail boss, the ride’s manager who is responsible for the group’s organization and safety. The trail boss plans the route, organizes campsites and rest stops, and maintains the safety of the riders, animals, equipment, and spectators. The trail boss is also the point-person for any questions and concerns along the route. Within each group, the trail boss is supported by a team of scouts, wagon bosses, and assistant trail bosses. Acting as trail boss is an important job, and these men and women are honored by leading their groups during the trail ride itself and during the parade in Houston.
Trail Ride Awards Ceremony
All of the rides culminate in a grand entrance into Memorial Park in Houston. Each group has a scheduled arrival time, and they are judged and celebrated as they ride in. At the end of the day, an awards ceremony honors all of the participants. There are special awards for the best trail rides, with prizes granted in 3 divisions based on ride size. Judges evaluate the groups’ adherence to safety standards, use of approved wagons and animals, appearance and dress of riders and wagons, and the behavior of riders. There are also two Spirit Awards for the most enthusiastic groups. The winning groups receive flags, which they can display as they ride into the park the following year.
The Downtown Rodeo Parade
After the awards ceremony, the trail ride groups all spend a night together camping in Memorial Park. Then, the next morning, they participate in the Downtown Rodeo Parade, an immense parade that kicks off the entire Rodeo. The riders and horses stretch for miles and are accompanied by floats, balloons, marching bands, local government representatives, and performers. It’s an immense parade cheered on by thousands of spectators. It’s an explosive start to the Rodeo, and it’s an exciting way to end a long trail ride all the way to Houston.
For trail ride participants or anyone else who wants to lay their weary head down on a nice bed at the end of a long day, renting an RV makes a great accommodation for the Houston Rodeo. Throughout Texas you can quickly find an RV rental in one search at www.GoRVRentals.com. Unfortunately, we don’t carry covered wagons. Happy trails!