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By Bije Bourland |

The Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show is one of the nation’s leading stock expositions.

Measured by the number of animals sold or cowboys competing or the quality of its bucking stock, every year the Fort Worth show ranks among the nation’s leading two or three. Its 95th season is January 17 through February 2 at Will Rogers Memorial Complex.

Founded in 1896, the exposition is the oldest continuously held annual livestock show in the United States.

The show draws over 18,000 head of stock from around the world. In 1991, over $8 million in livestock was sold. A champion bull may command a six-figure price.

The array includes not only horses, cattle and sheep, but also goats, mules, donkeys, llamas, sheep dogs, poultry, rabbits and pigeons.

Serious stock trading alternates with high-powered rodeo, in which cowboys and cowgirls compete in ranching skills such as bareback bronc riding, steer wrestling and calf roping, as well as feats of pure athletics: bull riding and barrel racing.

Some 700 champion cowboys and challengers vie for over $300,000 in prize money, matching their skills against prize rodeo stock assembled by the rodeo production company of Neal Gay, founder of the Mesquite Rodeo. And 120 women representing top Southwestern ranches and area towns compete in the annual Invitational Ranch Girls’ Barrel Race, for a purse of $24,000.

Rodeo entertainment acts also contend for visitors’ attention. San Antonian “Jerry” Diaz, a traditional Mexican charro roper; a California trick riding family called the Flying Cossacks; and a Canadian chuck wagon race are only part of the bill. There’s also a six-acre midway, a Future Farmers of America Children’s Barnyard, and a commercial exhibit of farm equipment and products. “People come to see and be seen, too,” says Delbert Bailey, the exposition’s publicity manager for some 22 years. He says you can tell where people come from and whether they are working cowhands by how they dress. (Working cowboys tuck their jeans into their boots to avoid tangling themselves in brush or fences, while “businessmen cowboys” who do their wrangling over conference tables wear their pant legs on the outside for a more understated look.) “Ladies seem to be just as at home with Levis as with the Miss Rodeo America look in skirts and blouses,” observes Bailey. “Quite a few” wear Western hats along with the men. Although the style of hat crease reflects the area a cowperson hails from, personal taste can be the rule.

The Stock Show was founded by ranchers to help their industry produce better meat for the nation’s tables. That is still its main business today. “The judges look for what market buyers tell them the public wants, whether it’s a 1/4-inch fat layer or marbling or tenderness,” says Mr. Bailey. The industry’s desire to meet the growing public taste for leaner meat was reflected in the 1987 change of the event’s name from “Fat Stock Show” to “Livestock Show.”

So the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show is not only a chance to see and be seen – Western life at its most flamboyant and yourself in full cowboy regalia – it’s a preview of what’s going to be on your table in 1992. Any way you look at it, it’s a feast to be enjoyed.

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