San Benito Lifestyle

Ranching families bring their way of life to the rodeo

San Benito County Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo has a long tradition of family involvement.

The family that ropes and rides together stays together. At least in San Benito County that seems to be the case. Some ranching families have lived and worked here for more than 100 years, said Rebecca Wolf, one of the directors of the San Benito County Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo, whose own family has been ranching here for the better part of a century.

Wolf said the Saddle Horse Show and Rodeo has been held for 82 years. “It was started by 25 ranchers in 1929,” she said. “They took four years off during World War II. They asked Mrs. Bolado if they if they could use this property. Eventually, she donated the property to the state for the use of the saddle horse show and the fair.”

According to historical records, Mrs. Julia Bolado-Ashe was the daughter of Don Joaquin Bolado, 1894-1893, a native of Spain, and early pioneer of San Francisco, who owned one of the original Spanish land grants, called the Santa Anita Ranch y Quin Sabe, located three miles from Tres Pinos.

Wolf said the rodeo (pronounced ro-day-oh) is a county event and anyone taking part in it has to be a resident or tax payer of the county. “For the last three years, we have had the CCPRA (California Cowboys Pro Rodeo Association), which are the professional bull riders and bronc riders,” she said. “For the most part, it’s a family event.”

The grandstands were built in 1951, to hold about 2,800 people, of which nearly 2,000 are pre-sold box seats. “Those boxes have been held from generation to generation,” Wolf said. “Your sort of inherit them. They go into divorce court and everything else.”

She said the San Benito County Rodeo is similar to the Salinas rodeo in that it holds track and arena events simultaneously.

“I believe there are only three rodeos in the United States that still do that,” she said. “On the track we do a lot of kids’ events and the spectators love it. It brings up new generations into the rodeo. We have the keyhole race, junior stock horse classes, outfit classes. It’s all about your horse and outfit. We go back to the old Spanish vaqueros’ style in the ropes, saddles, and the kids’ outfits, as well chaps, gloves, the whole thing. It’s quite traditional.”

The rodeo also includes the senior rein stock horse classes where the participants work cattle on the track, and figure-eight roping.

“It’s called the San Benito Toss, which is our signature event that we’re very well known for,” Wolf said. “They throw the rope to go over the steer’s head and then loop around the feet in a figure eight. Years ago, when the vaqueros worked out on the ranch by themselves and had to doctor a cow, they were able to throw the figure eight loop and bring them down. A week before the rodeo we have eliminations for it.”

On June 28, the finals for bronc riding, bull riding and barrel racing were held. 

“Today, we have some of the kids’ classes, like mutton busting, which is very cute,” she said. “We put 4-year-olds on sheep and let them ride.”

While most of the events are only open to locals, she explained why bull riding had to be opened up to professionals. “A lot of our kids have gone pro, but we just don’t have enough to compete,” she said. “So we had to bring in contestants we now have the CCPRA. They get a purse, but they also get points.”

Wolf said the show and rodeo is a family tradition that even she took part in growing up.

“My dad was a director here for 46 years,” she said. “When we were kids we were let out of school on Friday to come to the rodeo. Now it’s a Friday night show, but when I was growing up it was a Friday day show. They shut school down so people could come here. It’s changed because our community has changed, so we have to publicize to get people out here. There’s not a lot of ranch people now.”

With 700 seats of general seating and 2,000 box seats, the rodeo attracted a little over 600 people June 27 to watch some 388 contestants, and that number was exceeded the last day.

“Not all of the box seats get filled, unfortunately,” Wolf said. “Next year, we’re going to try get people to perhaps donate their box seats back. They could donate or resell them because a lot of people like the box seats.”

Gillian Enz, who helps publicizing the show, said she has been coming to the rodeo since she was 3. “This is my first rodeo as a director,” she said. “I’m getting my feet wet. I’ve been working with Rebecca and Jae Eade to put together the wine tasting on Friday, and the barbeque yesterday. Both were awesome events and I’ve only had about an hour to actually watch the show yesterday.”

Britney Olguin, born and raised in Hollister, but not from a ranching family, said her favorite part of the rodeo were the kids. “That’s the first time I’ve seen this at the rodeo,” she said. “I love the atmosphere, the people, the family environment and the food.”

Outside the grandstands, vendors sold everything from cowboy hats to specialized coffees. J Parson played his guitar, sang Willie Nelson songs, and sold CDs. Parson has farmed in the San Joaquin Valley and Girard, Kansas, run cattle and ranch horse operations from the Carizzo Plains to the Mojave Desert. While he continues to ranch, he has been touring and singing for the past 10 years.

Inside the tent where artisans showed and sold their creations, partners in life and business, Carl Ciliax and Beverly Wilson, traveled from Napa, California. Ciliax said he has a passion for the western heritage and works in bronze, creating stunning pieces depicting cowboys and their horses, saddles, buffalo and other wildlife. Wilson promotes herself as a “California Colorist,” and specializes in painting landscapes and “…those who work the land and are overlooked and underappreciated,” and has recently branched out to western scenes.

After the show wrapped up, belt buckles were presented to some of the winners. Some of the events, such as cattle sorting, were stretched over the entire three days of the rodeo. Then the best times over the three days are calculated to determine the winners. Those were officially announced June 29 and will be posted on BenitoLink. 

Of course, long into the night, social media was all abuzz about the rodeo.

“I’ve been going to the San Benito Saddle Show my whole life,” wrote Vickie Rae Bettencourt on Facebook. “This is my absolute favorite event to watch. I’m so lucky to have CRAZY friends that do this event.”

Hollister Chief of Police, David Westrick, whose horse, Snip, and daughter, Hailee, competed, posted on his Facebook page his thoughts on the show:

“I have to tell you, I'm really proud of our county this weekend. It was simply fantastic. The Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo went off without a hitch. It's because of the people from this community that care so much about this iconic and historic event.

“The Saddle Horse Show Board of Directors do not get paid a dime for this event and every single one of them (including retired board members) worked their tails off to make it happen. It was simply amazing to watch as a first year director all of the truly dedicated and altruistic folks that make this Saddle Horse Show happen.

“Also just as important were the contestants, who gave their all plus a little more during the events. Thank you all who attended this year and supported this rodeo. Without you fans, this show would be nothing. Can't wait to start planning next year’s show.”


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]