This season will mark 80 years of the San Benito County Saddle Horse Show and Rodeo. This old-time competition is held just 9 miles outside of Hollister, California on what was once an original Mexican Land Grant. Here visitors have a chance to time travel, going back to early San Benito, a county still considered vaquero country to Western aficionados. Despite its proximity to San Jose, Monterey and San Francisco, this region maintains the feel of pastoral California.
Friends and neighbors put their tasks aside and working cattlemen and women come down from the golden hills to show off a little. Aside from the rough stock events, only residents can compete in the show. This year on June 28th through 30th, some 350 local contestants will be parading by the stands in the popular Grand Entry.
Home of Doc Bar, San Benito County is known to produce genuine working cow horses and top-notch riders. One event unique to the Saddle Horse Show is the Figure-Eight Roping. Riders rope the steer’s horns with the first loop and at the same time catch his two front feet with another loop (making a figure eight). Will James coined this difficult catch “the San Benito Toss”.
Youngsters gather up their courage and clamber on unsuspecting sheep in the “Mutton Busting”. Multi-generational teams put their relationships to a test in the team penning competition. This year California Cowboy Professional Rodeo Association (CCPRA) riders will perform in the rough stock, bronc and bull riding events. The Wild Cow Milking Contest and the Wild Horse Race are both rough and tumble events that always capture the crowd’s attention. Massive oaks cast shade over a charming Saddle Horse Show Museum, food venues and trade items.
Started in 1929 by local ranchers, many of the original families still own box seats. Rebecca Wolf, one of the Saddle Horse Show directors grew up in the county and remembers fondly, “When we were kids, we all got out of school to go to the show. That’s how important the event was to the community!” Wolf looks forward to another San Benito reunion but like in the time of rancho rodeos and fandangos, she is quick to mention that anyone passing through sure is welcome!