COWBOY HEAVEN: The Saturday Night Finals at Rodeo Austin
Updated: Mar 30
Last week, I hosted good friends from The Netherlands in my hometown of Austin, Texas.
Both the husband and wife are world travelers, so I knew I would need to come up with an all-star itinerary for the start of their Texas and West Coast US vacation.
In preparation for my Dutch guests, I had spent the last few months creating the ultimate spring-time Austin, Texas itinerary that would include a day at the Dell Technologies World Golf Classic Match Play at Austin Country Club, a tour of the Texas State Capitol and munching on chips and queso at Hula Hut on Lake Austin.
Upon arrival, my visitors expressed the desire for an authentic Texas experience, and there is nothing more Texas than a rodeo, and I knew that night - Saturday, March 25, 2023 - happened to be the final round culmination of two weeks of rodeo competitions at Austin's rodeo, Rodeo Austin.
I HAD TO GET THE TICKETS.
Tickets secured, we needed OUTFITS.
In order to be prepared for the evening festivities, our beautiful Saturday in Austin, Texas started with a stroll down South Congress Avenue to visit Allen's Boots, the world famous Western wear retailer.
My European visitors were in disbelief that a pair of cowboy boots could run as much as $1,700 or more. Deciding against the boots, but in favor of hats which ran in the $150 range, we continued our preparations for a big night of cowboying in Austin.
Tickets to the Rodeo Austin finals were sold out over a week in advance of the final event, but I was able to secure my tickets on SeatGeek for approximately $100 a seat.
The fairgrounds opened at 10am; however, we arrived at 5.45pm in order to have time to park, explore the grounds and then arrive at our seats in time for the Rodeo Finals starting at 7.00pm sharp.
Public parking is $15, cash or credit, at the lot when you arrive. Depending on your parking spot, be prepared to walk a good 15-20 minutes to the Welcome entrance.
Purchasing your tickets online in advance is optimal, as there can be long lines to get into the fairground, especially for the final Saturday night.
Unfortunately, the livestock in the Show Barn were all packed away by the time we toured the fairgrounds. However, we did visit the Petting Zoo, which was an animal-lover’s paradise including goats, sheep, camels and baby kangaroos.
In addition to the Carnival atmosphere, fairground admission included a schedule of activities including pig racing, vaudeville-style Western shows and live country music on an outdoor stage.
Access to the rodeo competition and concert requires its own special ticket to get inside Luedecke Arena, a 6,400-seat multi-purpose arena on the grounds of the Travis County Exposition Center.
Inside the arena are designated areas where one can purchase Rodeo Austin merchandise and even cowboy hats, if so inclined.
During the competition, the rodeo clown even commented that cowboy hat sales in Austin, Texas surge 85% during the two weeks of Rodeo Austin.
Proving his point, the group sitting in the row in front of us all purchased their ten gallon hats onsite at the arena.
This is obviously big business, y’all - especially as $600,000 of prize money was on the line for the contestants who had persevered through two weeks of competition to make it to the championship finals at Rodeo Austin.
The first competition out of the 10 events on schedule for the evening was Bareback Riding, where riders attempt to not only stay on their saddle-less horse for more than 8 seconds, but also impress the judges with the quality of their ride.
In fact, for many of the riding events, including bull riding, riders attempt to get the highest score out of 100. Two judges give scores of up to 50 points on the difficulty of the horse or bull and two other judges give scores of up to 50 points on the quality of the ride - for a total of 100 potential points.
As soon as the first bareback bucking bronco shot out of the chute and its rider whipped violently on the horse, my friends were mesmerized. They had never seen anything like this before!
Each competition features eight rodeo professionals in each event. After the eight riders had completed their bareback rides, the winning score for the 2023 Rodeo Austin title in Bareback Riding was an 86.5 out of 100.
Other rodeo events like roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing are timed, with the shortest amount of time winning the title and the prize money.
The competitors from the US and Canada included world champion rodeo professionals and we witnessed several arena records. Several of the events were decided by a single point or one hundredth of a second.
The Mutton Bustin' competition - where children aged 5-7 years old ride a sheep holding on for dear life - blew the minds of my Dutch friends and was a definitely highlight of the rodeo for them. Apparently, parents there would never allow their kids to participate in such a dangerous-looking event.
Over the course of the next hour and a half, the three of us watched team roping, breakaway roping, barrel racing and more in awe.
The final and main event of the evening was Bull Riding.
The tension inside Luedecke Arena was palpable as each of the eight riders climbed on top of almost 2,000 pound bulls.
Out of the eight, three were thrown off the bull before the mandatory eight seconds was achieved.
For the five riders who scored points, Jace Trosclair, a 20-year old from Louisiana ranked #48 in world, won the title with a score of 87.5.
For more of the final rodeo results, click here.
This amazing night for cowboys was followed by a concert by country star Tracy Lawrence.
After such a great experience, I will be waiting eagerly for the ability to purchase tickets for Rodeo Austin 2024!