For the average Austinite, Rodeo Austin – which annually runs for 15 days (this year, through March 30) at the Travis County Expo Center – is just another entertainment experience during spring break. Sure, there's a carnival full of delicious fried foods, rides and games, a petting zoo, various shows, live music, and, of course, the spectacle of cowboys riding bucking broncos and bulls (officially dubbed "ProRodeo"). But as "Snapshot" learned, organizers and participants are really focused on greater goals.
"We need to educate people," says Marketing Coordinator Lindsay Leyden. "If you go outside of Austin, you see all these farms and ranches and animals, but sometimes it's hard to see their impact on us when you just go to H-E-B to get your food."
"ProRodeo looks super cool, but this is people's way of life – working on ranches and rodeoing," Leyden says. "Part of our mission is preserving Western heritage, and those skills of roping and riding are super important because they play into the life cycle of your food."
Increasing that understanding, particularly among children, is achieved by embedding education in the fun – as with this hatchery adjacent to the livestock show, where you're sure to witness a few chicks bursting from their eggs.
A teaching moment can be as simple as interacting with a diverse gang of animals at the petting zoo: "We're such an urban city that some of these kids have never seen a goat before, or a llama, or a camel, and to touch them and interact with them ... exposes [the kids] to the agricultural world," says Leyden.
Education is also advanced via money for college savings, awarded to local kids (as young as eight) for showing and auctioning off animals they raised themselves: "They feed it every day, walk it, clean it, brush it. ... We've got over 8,000 kids that show here," Leyden says. "Last year, our grand champion steer went for $100,000."
Even the carnival serves an altruistic purpose. Vendors and ride operators aren't just pocketing cash – a huge chunk of revenue boosts the rodeo's scholarship program, which last year awarded about $400,000 to Texas students.
The same goes for funds from tickets to the nightly concerts, which are curated to "put the weird in Western," or, more succinctly, embrace Austin's diversity. Leyden cites British glam rockers the Struts (pictured performing on Thursday, March 21) as an act that challenges stereotypical perceptions of rodeo. "There are a lot of different tastes here," she says. "We want to appeal to all."
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