84th Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo opens with patriotic flair and charging horses

As a few thousand horse lovers and rodeo (pronounced row-day-oh) fans found their way to Bolado Park Event Center on Friday, June 23, the hills were alive with sights, sounds and the smells of a time-honored American event.

Strains of music from the Mariachi Alma de Mexico Band, the scent of red wine, hot dogs, freshly plowed dirt, running horses and bad-tempered cows, along with the swish of ropes and the sound of crying babies, concluded by the singing of the National Anthem and cheering of a patriotic crowd, many dressed to the nines in their best western wear, set in motion the 84th Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo.

The event is a family affair as parents and kids compete in the arena or watch from the grandstand. Names dating back to Spanish land-grant days, as well as corporate identities, mark box seats. Eager fans who have never sat astride a horse and seasoned cowhands mingled as the announcer called out the names of bronc riders, roping teams and barrel racers, some barely tall enough to climb aboard a tall horse without help from mom or dad.

Inside the large tent housing a taco bar and wine and beer tasting, cattle ranchers rubbed elbows with city residents, entrepreneurs and even a politician or two. Rani Douglas, of the Douglas Ranch in Panoche Valley, said she has been coming to the event for 21 years.

“I look forward to coming into this tent because I like to see the artwork. I like to support the local artists and jewelry-makers,” she said. “We just stroll around, have a glass of wine and visit with people you only see once a year.”

Douglas said she wouldn’t be participating in any of the events this year, but her grandson was going to do the "best boys working outfit" competition. Her friend, Kim Williams, who raises heritage-breed pigs in Panoche Valley, said she came to support the event too.

“My neighbor’s son (Robert Douglas) is competing in an event, so I’m really excited to see him,” she said. “I’ve known him since he was in high school and now he’s in his 30s, so it’s fun to see how he’s grown and come out and support the community.”

Kristina Chavez Wyatt, president/owner of Farmhouse Communications, was taking in the sights and sounds with her twin daughters, Haley and Molly. She said to her the event summed up the history, culture and fun of a community gathering of the area for all ages and generations. She said she would be attending all three days of the event.

“Today, to enjoy, and the next two days I’m volunteering at the Rotary Club concessions,” Wyatt said. “I think it’s important for those in this county to understand the cultural heritage, specifically for the vaqueros (Mexican cowboys). And the fact that this is a rodeo (row-DAY-oh) and not a rodeo (ROW-dee-oh), about our figure 8 roping and why it’s unique to San Benito County, as well has the hard work the Rodeo Association does in putting on a world-class event.”

San Benito County District 1 Supervisor Mark Medina mingled along with his son, Jake. He said he supports the event because it has been an important part of the county for so many years.

“It brings the community together, especially the younger generation,” Medina said. “It’s a great place to be and a great time to share the experience with everyone. The kids can come here and see some very different things different from what they’re used to, the horses, the cows, a whole different world. It’s important, and that’s why I brought my son.”

Local businesswoman, Kathina Szeto, owner of San Benito Bene, as well as the founder of the San Benito County Olive Festival was hobnobbing with friends and business acquaintances as she was promoting the return of the festival, which will be held at Brigantino Park.

“The Saddle Horse Show is an awesome event featuring the heritage of the equestrian culture here,” she said. “We’re lucky enough to be working with them to promote our Olive Festival, which showcases the local harvest and artisans with the net proceeds going to the nonprofits that support us.”

Szeto said that by locating the festival at Brigantino Park it will be centrally located between Hollister and San Juan Bautista.

“We’ll not only be promoting the local artisans and award-winning wineries and agriculture, we’ll be promoting the park, as well,” she said. “We want to focus on the fun things to do in our community for locals and folks from the Bay Area.”

Inside the arena, just before the opening parade, Susan Askew was in a bragging mood about her 17-year-old daughter, Shaelie, and even her daughter’s horse.

“This is the best thing for girls to do, to have a horse,” Askew said. “She’s been riding her whole life. I was riding when I had her and so it’s just kind of continued. She is the first runner-up for the Saddle Horse Show queen competition. Her horse is named Chrome and he’s a beautiful thoroughbred.”

Tickets for this weekend's Saddle Horse Show and Rodeo are $10 for adults, $7 for children.

For more information, click here.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]