Yee-haw! What an adventure! HLSR is one of the best parts of being a Houstonian. For three weeks a year you can spend endless hours immersed in a citified version of true Texas culture. The rodeo kicks off with the incredible Trail Rides into Houston and the BBQ cook-off. Each of those topics warrants their own article so I will glisse over those topics for today. When the rodeo actually gates open on Day 1 you should gear up for a day of laughter, learning, and a whole lot of walking.
You can pay to park at the Yellow Lot and take the complimentary tram right over to the NRG Center or you can park elsewhere and ride the Metrorail to the entrance gate. School groups typically dominate much of the grounds from about 9:45-12:30. I like to get to the rodeo about 10:00. Coming from Katy that allows me to miss most of the traffic, spend several hours at the rodeo, and still get home before the worst of traffic begins again. Before I leave home I make sure that my snack bag is packed, comfy shoes are on all our feet, and extra sweaters are in the stroller since the NRG Center is an icebox.
To begin the day, I like to go to an often overlooked, but excellent show held in the NRG Arena. Note: this is an entirely different building from where the rest of the livestock activities are housed. By the Fannin entrance, next to NRG Center, you can board a tram that takes you directly to the Arena. Do this. It’s quite a walk and you need to save your energy for later in the day. Once you enter the arena you will basically have the entire place to yourself. Let your kids touch real saddles, genuine leather accessories of all kinds, and take advantage of the empty, barely used bathrooms. Once your little group is ready, walk up the short staircase and find a seat in the nearly empty arena. All day, everyday, you can watch various competitions. Check the schedule to find out what you will be enjoying. We got to see cutting on Tuesday. A quick google search filled us in on what exactly we should be watching for. My daughter loved getting to see the horses in action and I learned about a new skill. (Yes, the Arena has cell phone reception!)
For your next adventure, hop aboard the tram back to NRG Center and consider grabbing food before the lunch rush. There are plenty of tables under tents and even some space on the grass for the little ones to run around while you eat. You should be able to quickly and easily locate BBQ, but it might take awhile to decide which delicious place to try. If you aren’t ready for lunch, you can still use the outside seating to have a snack. You are allowed to pack your own food, so I make sure to take a bag of snacks to keep the Gremlins away. This not only is better for our sanity, but it makes the rodeo much more affordable. You can enjoy a rodeo treat guilt free if you know that ALL of your food for the day doesn’t have to be purchased.
After your appetites have been satisfied the school rush should be beginning to wane. Just behind the food tents are the petting zoo, pony rides, and kid farming experience. Make sure to explore these excellent sites when field trips are not present. Not only will it be more relaxing, but the workers are more available to give your little cowgirls and cowboys more individualized attention. The petting zoo is free to enter, but will cost you a few dollars if you want to feed the animals and are over the age of 3. For us, simply petting them is enough. There is much to be enjoy in a petting zoo complete with deer, llamas, kangaroos, sheep, and a variety of goats.
Outside the petting zoo is the most fantastic hand washing station you can imagine. They have a second station next to Mutton Bustin’ and if your little one is wary of washing his hands…send him here. You can explore its delights yourself, and I assure you that there are many. Hand drying has never been sillier! If you don’t smile then you might be the Grinch. Just saying.
One of the best exhibits for kids is the outside farming simulation. Kids pick a basket at the beginning and continue on a winding trail experiencing different farming activities. They get to plant seeds (okay, really they are just coins, but the way it is done is adorable), feed chickens, milk a cow, feel the wool of a sheep, play in a giant corn box, and more. Along the way live animals are penned at each station with kid size windows for an up close look at the livestock. The facilitators at each station are knowledgeable, friendly, and excited to be there. This is a can’t miss activity if your child can walk and is under 8.
Your day is in full swing and you haven’t even seen the Pig Races or Mutton Bustin’! These are scheduled nearly every hour and it is clearly labeled in your rodeo brochure. Select a time you’d like and arrive a little early. These are popular events and the best seats will fill up. The tents for these activities are the two huge tents situated in the middle of the carnival. Walk quickly here to avoid carnival distractions. If your little one is 5-6 years old, then he is eligible to ride his own sheep! You will need to complete paperwork and I believe pay $15 for this experience. It is absolutely adorable. I look forward to the day Lilah is old enough to do this! I have a feeling we will spend a small fortune riding the sheep again…and again…and again. But hey, they can only do it when they are 5 or 6, so it doesn’t last long!
Have another snack and head inside now that the sun is heating things up outside. By now all the school groups should have left, but the crowds shouldn’t be beginning for the night’s events. Enter NRG Center at the entrance by Fannin to be close to the exhibits for kids. From there you can spread out to conquer what interests your family the most. We particularly love the birthing center because you can see babies that have been born recently. We got to see three lambs that were less than a day old! There are also pigs and cows expecting babies soon. Next to the birthing center you can walk through a red barn to inspect a variety of cows and pigs. Kids can collect trading cards at each section to learn more about the livestock. From there you can walk through the rabbit maze. I had no idea there were so many varieties of rabbits. They usually have a couple of rabbits out for you to pet too.
If chickens are your thing, then there is an entire section just for you! A large pen with several chickens is located behind the inside petting zoo. Next to the chicken pen you will find the two hatching stations. On day one there were zero hatching chickens, but by now I bet there are several! On the shell you will see a number, that number is the expected number of days before the chick hatches. Again, the facilitators are knowledgeable and so happy to teach your little one. Take advantage of this. The more interested you are in each area you explore, the more exciting your day will be. Curiosity is contagious!
Inside NRG Center there are also multiple arenas that show livestock throughout the day. Consult your schedule for the latest postings and be sure to head to an arena when you need to sit down. The HLSR doesn’t have many areas designed with seats, so go to an arena if you need to sit down. You can rest and your kids can learn about cattle, goats, sheep, or whatever animal is currently competing. After resting you can walk to the back of the arena and take the back way around the center. This is the side where the real rodeoing happens. It isn’t showy back here. The animals are penned, the competitors prep their animals, and the people are serious about being here. You can get an interesting, and different, experience from hanging out back here. Again, don’t be shy! Say hello to some folks and ask them questions. Participating here is a passion of theirs and most people are happy to talk to you. An additional benefit of this area: the bathrooms! There are bathrooms back here that probably will be less crowded than at the front. There are even family bathrooms throughout the center, so keep your eyes open for those. Nothing helps a potty training toddler more than having a quiet, personal bathroom.
If you still have energy at this point, you can shop! Take advantage of the space in your stroller and load up with western treasures for yourself or to use as Christmas gifts. It’s never too early to start your Christmas shopping. If your kiddos are on their last leg, or your legs are about to give out, find the middle of the giant room and head out those doors. Just beyond those doors…are….more bathrooms and food! There is an incredibly delicious corn stand here. Or. If corn isn’t what you want, you can have ice cream or BBQ. Personally, ice cream always seems to do the trick in the middle of the afternoon.
Take your snack and mosey through the exhibits in the hallway. You don’t want to miss the exquisite quilts that are on display. This is also where the art competition winners are available to peruse. The artistic talent that some youngsters have is astounding. By some miracle, if you are still going, then take the elevator to the second floor where you can find even more educational exhibits.
Honestly, I haven’t made it up there yet. Maybe next week!
We absolutely love the rodeo, and I love that you can do so much of it without truly spending a lot of money. If you keep your cowboys and cowgirls engaged with the vast number of agricultural exhibits then you can essentially bypass the entire carnival.
Before you hit the road to sit in Houston traffic again, open up that cooler of snacks you packed and grab a special momma snack and drink. It might be a long journey home, but the memories you made today and the enchanting photos you took should help melt away the traffic stress. Enjoy your trip to the rodeo and maybe we will see you there!