This year, the Gilroy Rodeo will start with two free events Aug. 7 & 8

Gilroy Life file photo
From left, Erik Martin, founder of the Gilroy Rodeo; Jade Katen-Ynzunza, 2018 Rodeo Queen; and Joyce Vieira, 2018 Grand Marshal, in the new arena built on a ranch in east Gilroy.

By Donna Lane

After returning from a 62-year hiatus in 2018, the Gilroy Rodeo is roaring back with more thrills and spills in 2019. Held the second weekend in August, this year’s dates are Aug. 9 through 11, and includes a stellar lineup of events the entire family can enjoy.

Even those who don’t consider themselves “country folks” may be surprised at how exciting a day at the rodeo can be. But beyond that, it’s also an opportunity to support the local community while celebrating and preserving the rich traditions of Gilroy’s agricultural roots.

Last year, Gilroy Rodeo director and founder Erik Martin was overseeing the construction of the rodeo arena along Ferguson Road near Pacheco Pass. When he wasn’t doing that, he was trying to rustle up volunteers, attract entrants for the events, and get the word out that Gilroy would have its first rodeo since 1956, when the local Gymkhana shuttered its chutes.

Motivated by preserving a way of life he and his wife, Kendra, had both enjoyed in their youth, Martin stepped up to the task. There was a swell of support from Gilroy and other local communities, excited to see an homage to the ranching days of old San Ysidro. With a successful first year under the ol’ belt buckle, the 2019 Gilroy Rodeo has a leg up on summer entertainment options.

But while it’s certainly entertaining, it’s also doing good work. In 2018, the Gilroy Rodeo raised $10,000 for nonprofits and youth organizations, including local 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA), among other groups.

Additionally, it provided service hours for local youth, donated more than $3,100 in partnership with Xtreme Bronc Riding’s Pass the Boot Campaign to St. Louise Hospital’s breast cancer research efforts, and awarded two $1,000 scholarships to the past and present Miss Gilroy Rodeo. Stepping up and helping your own is what the western way of life is all about, and Martin and his team have delivered.

This year, the fun gets underway with two free events. The first is the Gilroy Rodeo Kickoff Barrel Race, held Wednesday, Aug. 7, at 6 p.m. Then on Thursday, Aug. 8, fans can enjoy the Gilroy Rodeo Local Team Roping.

Friday starts with Junior Rodeo events. There are two categories: junior and pee wee. Junior rodeo competitions girls’ barrel racing (two age brackets) and girls’ breakaway roping (two age brackets), plus boys’ breakaway roping, boys’ tie-down roping, and boys’ steer riding (two age brackets). Likewise, there will be calf riding for ages 6 to 9, and family team roping. The pee wee rodeo events are fan favorite mutton busting, as well as stick horse race (two age brackets), and boot race (two age brackets).

Friday concludes with the GR Buckin Bash, featuring Xtreme Bulls and Broncs, which begins at 7 p.m. This includes bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding. The Rob Smets Invitational Freestyle Bullfight is also listed for Friday night. Smets, known as The Kamikaze Kid, hails from Palo Alto but lives in San Martin and went to Palma High School in Salinas. He is a former five-time Wrangler World Champion bullfighter, and a color commentator for the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) tour. A Rodeo Dance follows at 8 p.m.

Those familiar with the rodeo circuit should enjoy the eight standard California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association (CCPRA) events. These are the most familiar events, such as tie-down roping, breakaway roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing, team roping, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, and the big draw, bull riding. The CCPRA competitions are held Saturday, Aug. 10, at 5 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 11, at 2 p.m.

But something that sets the Gilroy Rodeo apart from others is that it also includes traditional ranch rodeo events, where teams from different ranches compete against one another. These are held on Saturday, August 10, beginning at 8 a.m.

Events include team branding, ranch doctoring, trailer loading, and ranch roping. When these events wrap up, on Saturday at 1 p.m., rodeo attendees can watch the Gilroy Rodeo 3-man big pen sorting.

Ranch sorting involves separating cattle from a herd and transferring them to a separate pen. Spoiler alert: It’s harder than it looks.

Though the rodeo concludes with its final performance on Sunday, it’s hardly a day of rest. With a nod to the Hispanic heritage that was prevalent in the early days of old San Ysidro and still a vibrant element of Gilroy’s community, the Gilroy Rodeo presents its Charreria at 9 a.m.

Celebrating the culture and tradition of Mexican equestrian events, charreria is a fitting homage to the charros and vaqueros who initiated what we call rodeo today.

After all, that’s what Martin and his team intended when they first envisioned bringing the rodeo back to Gilroy. A return to tradition in a world where innovation and technology have hurtled us lightyears ahead, and threatens the memory, of a simpler past.

Donna Lane