On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I had the privilege to attend my first National Western Stock Show. I grew up in a rural community and am no stranger to horse riding and mucking stalls, so the sights, sounds, and, well, smells, felt familiar and nostalgic to me. I imagine that with an event that's in its 109th year, many folks feel that nostalgia. The rich histories of the show, the stockyards, the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, and Denver are all part of the experience.
During my time at the Stock Show, I traveled back to the past as I walked through the stockyards, stopping to watch as a train went by. I got swept up in the excitement of a fast-talking livestock auction, surrounded by historic photos of past grand champions on the auction arena's Wall of Champions. I marveled at the architecture, light fixtures, and historic relics in the Denver Union Stockyard Company, a building that's still used today. I saw multi-generational families in their boots and cowboy hats, showing off their pigs, goats, and prize steer. Even as the city of Denver grows and modernizes, these traditions live on, not only in those ranchers and farmers that live them daily, but in all of the city dwellers and suburbanites that come out to the Stock Show every year, bringing their children to see the cows and ride ponies.
I'll admit that seeing baby goats made me happy, but what I most enjoyed at the Stock Show was going to the Martin Luther King, Jr. African-American Heritage Rodeo of Champions. This invitational featured some of the nation's best black cowboys and cowgirls in events such as bare back riding, bull riding, mutton busting (for the kids), ladies barrel racing, and bull doggin', the steer wrestling event made famous by Bill Pickett.
The invitational featured a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the singing of both "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and the national anthem, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock greeting the crowd from atop the National Western Stage Line stagecoach. The diverse crowd, the rodeo participants, the rodeo clowns, and the cowboys working the back pens were all united in a common goal, cheering for every cowboy and cowgirl, celebrating the successful rides, lamenting with them when 8 seconds proved elusive, and gasping when a bull tried to jump out of its pen. The camaraderie was especially apparent when the Denver and Colorado cowboys and cowgirls were announced; the crowd definitely showed its local pride!
We'd love to hear about your National Western Stock Show experiences too. Was it a family tradition for you as a child? What are your favorite things to see? Tell us about it in the comments below!