Rodeo and fair-loving folks are celebrating the fact that they’ll be able to experience the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo in full force this month.
Because of COVID-19 last year, the normal schedule was kept to a minimum, featuring only a few events, the livestock show, a rodeo at 50% and some food trucks that served carnival eats.
Charva Ingram, vice president of marketing and sponsorship development at the Extraco Events Center, said this year’s Oct. 7-17 event will feature some new locations and activities plus all the experiences that attendees have cherished.
“We’re bringing back the full fair and rodeo,” she said. “All you’ve known and loved will be here.” That includes dozens of events ranging from a calm petting zoo to a thrilling bullfight.
Making its debut this year in the coliseum will be the Charro Jerry Diaz Mexican Rodeo Spectacular on Sunday, Oct. 10. The two-hour show features rough stock riding, girls sidesaddle riding, a mariachi band, a drill team and performers doing dances from Mexico’s various regions. Announcements at the event will be in Spanish and English.
Wes Allison, president and CEO of the Extraco Events Center, said planners wanted to honor the Mexican rodeo culture by showing the expertise and horsemanship of that country’s cowboys as well as its music and dance.
“It’s a great celebration of Mexican heritage,” he said.
While the events and exhibits of past years will be back, many of them will find a new home in The BASE building, which was completed in April. Allison said the facility “has been used thus far for any number of events like fundraisers and trade shows.” It even accommodated a high school graduation.
Now the building will serve at the fair as the exhibits, shopping and hometown entertainment location. Texas Farm Bureau will present its “Doorway to Agriculture” display at The BASE. Ingram said the Farm Bureau usually unveils its new educational exhibits at the State Fair of Texas but has chosen the Heart O’ Texas for the honor this year.
Another change for the 2021 fair will be the way contestants earn prize money in what used to be called the Junior Livestock Show. It is now simply the Livestock Show, and all the funds will be geared toward college scholarships for the winners.
Last year, due to the pandemic, the livestock show (which drew a record number of entries) started a few days earlier than the official beginning of the fair to prevent overcrowding. Ingram called the earlier start date a positive thing to come out of COVID-19 and will be continued this year. The show will be Oct. 1-17.
Other protocols in 2020 will be in place this year: additional cleaning, hand sanitizing stations and, when possible, social distancing
“We want people to feel safe and comfortable to be here and be able to mix and mingle,” Ingram said. She emphasized that fair-goers are welcome to wear masks, but they are not required.
This year’s One HOT Rodeo will feature all the hoof-pounding events of the past as well as the popular youth calf scramble and the kids mutton bustin’.
Although most events and displays of the fair are included in the price of admission ($10 in advance and $15 at the gate), there is an additional price for the rodeo: $20 in advance, $25 at the gate and $30 box seats. The rodeo tickets include general admission.
Rodeo dates are Oct. 8-9 and 14-16 at 7 p.m. each night.
What would the fair and rodeo be without the help of the Sweethearts — area high school girls who serve as volunteers at least 100 hours throughout the year, selling tickets and sponsorships, promoting the fair and rodeo, benefits and parades, and earning scholarship money. Thirty of those hours are served at the fair and rodeo.
This year’s Miss Heart O’Texas Fair & Rodeo is Gatesville High School senior Hailey Luensmann, daughter of Brian and Kandi Luensmann. She was a Sweetheart last year but has been attending fairs, she said, “since I was itty-bitty. It’s definitely been a part of my life.” She has also shown pigs for the past four years at the HOT Fair.
As a Sweetheart last year, she did a lot of greeting of fair guests but expects to do more this year. “I’m super excited and very humbled and grateful,” she said.
The carnival is another hugely popular component of the fair. Some people come just for the excitement and food of the midway. “It’s a big piece of what people love,” Ingram said. All the rides are slated to be back this year and will be in the same location as in the past.
For music lovers, the 2021 concerts will feature a variety of styles. Ingram said she’s excited about the lineup and that it is “in the spirit of doing things better and different.”
The fair also offers Central Texans a chance to run with the bulls without traveling all the way to Spain. Running with the Bulls Fun Run and 5K Race takes place Oct. 10 starting at 8 a.m. and ending with a close encounter with the more docile bulls on the dirt of the coliseum.
Participants run on the streets around the Extraco Events Center and through the fairgrounds before racing with the bulls in the coliseum. In 2019, more than 100 runners took part, and the idea is to continue to increase the number of participants as all proceeds from the run benefit the fair’s scholarship fund.
“We’re excited,” Ingram said. “We’re ready to see the faces of Central Texas.” ￼
HOT Fair & Rodeo
When, where: Oct. 7-17 at the Extraco Events Center, 4601 Bosque Blvd.