Houston Rodeo tradition kicks off with parade

February 25, 2019

Some attendees watch in awe as the cowboys ride past on their horses and high school bands march the streets of downtown in the Rodeo Parade.

For others, the annual event is old hat.

Bernice Gregory, 58, has been attending the parade for as long as she can remember, going with her parents since she was a toddler. Her father worked on a farm and used to say coming to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was like coming home. Gregory has marched in the parade and even participated in an attempt to break a world record once.

“I’m a professional clown when I’m not doing my normal job,” said Gregory. “I was invited to be in the parade, we were trying to get in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most clowns in a parade, and we missed it by one clown, we were with the Cheerful Clown Alley which is the number one clown alley here in Houston, and we marched down in the parade.”

Gregory also reminisced on her time playing the clarinet in the Jack Yates High School band.

“We were a really powerful band at that time and had a huge group and so we would march in the parade and we’d do this dance routine and make the crowd go wild,” Gregory said. “My family could always spot me because I was the shortest person in the band, so wherever there was a dip in there, that was me.”

Prior to the parade, a record 9,187 runners participated in the Rodeo Run to raise scholarship money, according to Bryan Blonder, a member of the Board of Directors for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Gabrielle Branch, 27, tries to run with a friend every year.

“Rodeo season is our favorite season, so we like to participate in all the things that we can,” the downtown resident said.

The parade has kicked off the Rodeo season every year since 1938, according to Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo website.

This year’s Grand Marshal, Texans’ Deshaun Watson, waved to the onlookers on horseback. Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. Reps. Al Green, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia Garcia, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg all rode the route, waving to the crowd.

Some protesters turned out to denounce what they called animal abuse by the rodeo.

“The animals that are being ridden into the parade come from trail rides,” said Dani Alexander. “They are ridden for hundreds of miles, some of them come from out of state, horses have died on the trail ride in here. Just a few days ago a horse was hit by a Hummer and then, bleeding, the person riding them got right back on the horse and the horse was forced to come and be in this parade.”

Rodeo Officials responded to the claims of animal cruelty by issuing a statement on the importance of animal welfare.

“We take great pride in the care and attention our livestock receive throughout the Rodeo,” it said. “We work closely with veterinary professionals and the Houston SPCA who are on-site daily.”

Gregory plans to carry on the tradition of attending the parade by bringing her grandsons from San Marcos.

“The bands are nice, but the cowboys, and the horses, that’s what Texas is all about,” she said.