La Fiesta de los Vaqueros®: Buck-boards, Round-Ups and Ponies

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Attendees of this week’s Tucson La Fiesta de los Vaqueros® are learning that rodeos are hog whoppin’ good times with deep cultural roots.

Inspired by appreciation for the Mexican vaqueros and their cattle drive precision, western ranchers first brought cowhands together during the early 1800s in informal exhibitions to test working skills in ranching and managing livestock. Then, in the early 1900s, organizations began event standardization and popularizing rodeos for big Eastern cities, with defined racing, roping, riding, tying, and wrestling.

Today, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros® carries on a 90 year Tucson tradition that also is a contemporary competitive convergence of athleticism, ranching skill exhibition, history and wild-west entertainment. It is one of the world’s top 25 demonstrations of first-rate horsemanship, drawing huge crowds (estimated at 200,000 for the Parade) and a large financial purse for Rodeo winners. It’s set in the historic Parade Grounds on South 6th and Irvington through March 1, with a presentation of distinctive livestock and world-class riders, as well as ancillary daily events and booths showcasing all aspects of western heritage.

Attendees this year are seeing over 700 contestants and about 1,000 horses, with men competing in six events, and the women in barrel racing.  Lively competition all week includes bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie down roping and bull riding, with events sanctioned by professional rodeo associations. The Quadrille de Mujeres, an independent riding organization of horsewomen from Casa Grande, follows tradition and leads off the Rodeo activities.

Quadrille de Mujeres
Quadrille de Mujeres; photo by Mike Sultzbach

The Rodeo Parade, held Thursday, is certainly the event’s cultural centerpiece. It’s also the country’s longest non-motorized parade (and the only place in the nation where there is a school holiday as in Tucson for such tradition). The Parade featured hundreds of riders, more than 90 wagons and buggies, marching bands, equestrian units, mariachis and floats, and lasted over three hours along its 2.45 mile route.

Beyond the Rodeo Week activities, the Tucson Rodeo and Parade Committee manages year-round educational initiatives that bring school groups, 4-H clubs and other youth organizations to the Rodeo grounds.

Open for the Rodeo (and through April) is the Parade Museum, housed in a collection of historic buildings on these Parade grounds, including a1930s sheriff’s adobe and the 1919 Tucson Municipal Airport hangar for the first municipal airport in the United States.  The Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee’s collection of 170-plus horse-drawn buggies, buckboards, stagecoaches and farm wagons are housed here, as well as mercantile and blacksmith displays along a recreated old Tucson Main Street. Other Museum artifacts include original Buffalo Soldier harnesses, John Wayne movie props and exhibits documenting Tucson’s role in aviation history.

A last link to western tradition for many Tucson families, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros® helps the community celebrate a connection to a ranching past and future that’s still important, culturally and economically.

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros® Tucson Rodeo Grounds are located at 4823 South 6th Avenue, northeast corner of Irvington and S. 6th Ave. Check www.tucsonrodeo.com for Parade Museum hours and Rodeo information.

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