Eighty years ago, Mercedes farmers, ranchers and the Chamber of Commerce decided to host a regional livestock show. The event grew as they started raising prize money for the youth exhibiting livestock. Today, the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo is the Valley’s biggest event. Up to 3,000 young participants from Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties contend for $2 million in prizes, scholarships, awards, titles and belt buckles.
The RGLS celebrates its 80th anniversary expecting to welcome approximately 300,000 people between March 7–17. Each person arrives to be entertained and enlightened in a fun, family atmosphere. Youth team roping, barrel racing, PRCA rodeos, and ranch rodeos combined with Western art and photography displays, racing pigs and greased pig scrambles crowd the schedule. Be sure to look in on the judging of goats, cattle breeds, hogs, poultry, sheep, rabbits, and the horse shows. Find time to see the Horticulture, 4-H and FFA shop exhibits. Don’t miss the illusionist, saddle bronc riding or the rope walk, where you can make your own rope.
“The Livestock Show’s range of activities goes way beyond sows, cows, and plows,” says D. J. Wernecke, Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show manager. True, the goal is to educate the general public about agriculture and livestock, but RGVLS aims to do it with pizzazz. “We try to make each year different, more vibrant. With the kids these days, technology has to be better. You have to entertain them at a fast pace.”
So much happens during the 10 days of the show. The 130 acres becomes a busy little town, complete with residents (participants camped out in RVs and trailers), music and entertainment, competitions, special events, demonstrations and food booths along with police and EMS. A midnight curfew maintains the family environment. You can visit educational exhibits to see shop-made BBQ grills, furniture and clothing. The Cover Girl queen contest attracts about 35 girls representing ag-related clubs, each vying to be one of five young women chosen to present exhibitors with medals the following year.
This year, the RGVLS is rolling out a number of firsts, including a mascot named Rio the Bronc. Rio will be stationed around the barn and happy to talk to kids. The opening Thursday and Friday bring the first Special Needs Kids Rodeo, with free admission and hands-on activities for those kids for the two days. “We want our doors to be open for everybody. There is a need for it,” Wernecke said. “We think this is going to get bigger.” The Kids Corral, which he admitted is one of his favorite spots, has expanded this year, too.
Another new event, scheduled for the first Friday night, is a bloodless bullfight. “The bulls think it is the real deal, but the matadors use paint markers to indicate contact.” High power performances on the music stage are nightly features, with your seat included in your livestock show admission fee. “Every night is a different type of music. You can look at the Show magazine and see what artists you prefer. It helps you decide when to come,” Wernecke added. The carnival midway, the food vendors, and rodeo tickets all contribute to the Livestock Show’s success by bringing in money that goes as prizes to the kids who show shop projects, photography, western art and more.
The RGVLS operates with large volunteer crews and a volunteer Board of Directors. The nonprofit’s small year-round staff — every one of whom participated in the livestock show as youngsters — prepares for the thousands of details involved in next year’s show and then some. It also rents at competitive prices the property for special events such as rodeos, concerts, expos, art shows. “You name it. We do it.”
For more information, visit rgvls.com.