The National Western Stock Show: Welcome to Cowboy Country!

Colorado has a unique mix of the modern and traditional, urban and rural and nowhere is this more evident than at the National Western Stock Show. Since 1906, the Stock Show has been a regular feature in Denver. To kick off the event, cowboys on horseback lead a herd of cattle through the streets of downtown Denver from Union Station to the state Capitol. This event was born out of necessity as ranchers and brokers looked for a market to sell their horses, cattle, sheep, hogs and more. Over the last 100 years, the event has transformed into an event that attracts modern-day cowboys, ranchers, and tourists alike. This was something I had to see.

As we enter the fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon, the landscape changes considerably. Large pickup trucks dominate the parking lot, dwarfing the little hybrid cars that are so popular in Denver. The fleece jackets and outdoorsy attire that characterize Denverites are replaced by jeans, cowboy boots, three-quarter length dusters and cowboy hats. Mind you, these people aren’t playing dress up—this is what they wear to work every day.

The first event we attend is the sheep dog trials. Here, modern-day shepherds compete with their dogs, masterfully gathering three skittish sheep into a small area through a series of whistled commands. We then stroll through a stadium-sized stable where all varieties of prize-winning livestock are kept. Cage doors are proudly decorated with ribbons and children in cowboy hats parade their animals around in preparation for competition and cash prizes. Some families have been participating in the Stock Show for generations and have their names and reputations at stake. This is serious business.

The rodeo is by far the most popular event. Competitors participate in tie-down roping, steer wrestling and timed horseracing to test their skills against the best in the world. The bull riding competition attracts the most attention as cowboys attempt to stay on a massive bull as long as possible. The crowd cheers and gasps as riders are thrown to the dirt and chased by the angry bull. Rodeo clowns add an extra element of entertainment by distracting the bulls from the thrown rider and diving into barrels to escape the charging animal.

If you are looking for a place to experience authentic Western culture, the Stock Show is the place to go. Unlike a Nuggets or Broncos game, it is not simply entertainment for the people of Colorado; it celebrates a rustic lifestyle that is still alive and well all over the country. Among this exclusive crowd I couldn’t help but feel a like a tourist in my own city, but it is an experience that I recommend to anyone visiting Colorado.