Growing up I had a secret fantasy of becoming a fierce and fiery cowgirl. I loved the notion of letting the wind blow through my hair as I raced across a vast plain dotted by grazing steer. But, being born and bred on the city side of Southern California the closest I ever got to that dream was fakin’ it on a movie set. However, there are places where we concrete jungle gals can live out our childhood dream, even if it is just for a couple days and from the spectator stands.
Steeped in the American frontier tradition, every summer, at the end of July, for the past 54 years, Dodge City, Kansas comes alive for the Dodge City Days celebration. Hundreds of thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage for this 10-day tribute to the glory of the Wild West. This year’s honored guests included, Buck Taylor, star of Gunsmoke, Johnny Crawford from the Rifleman, and John Lehr and his co-producer Nancy Hower, of Hulu’s original series Quickdraw. With that good company, I donned my best cowgirl regalia com rhinestones, to join in the fun.
We tasted the best of all worlds, as Boot Hill Casino & Resort, the host and cornerstone of this event, mixed the modern fun of a casino with stellar servings of steer-sized steaks (naturally) and full participation in a classic Longhorn Cattle drive down Wyatt Earp Boulevard. The people Dodge City have not witnessed that kind of sight for over 100 years. Of course, the centerpiece of the celebration is the Dodge City Round-up Rodeo, organized every year by Dr. R.C.Trotter.
I can honestly say this was my “first rodeo,” and for a family adventure the experience is unparalleled. The whole event is uber patriotic, from honoring returning serviceman to the singing of the star spangled banner by local songstress luminaries. It makes you proud to be an American. Your and your family will be amazed watching the fearless cowboys mount the bulls and ride them into the ring, stay atop bucking bronco’s, and rope cattle. The female trick riders execute moves with ballet-like grace, while their horse’s race around the arena, and the girls who navigate the barrels appear to move faster than the speed of light. It is exhilarating. Kids will love watching the local little ones hang on for dear life as they ride sheep bareback and laugh at, PRCA Clown Barrelman of the Year, Justin Rumford. The only downside to the event is announcer, Boyd Polhamus, who endlessly drones on and on throughout the program.
After the rodeo spectacle you can put your kids down for the night and head back to Boot Hill Casino to try your luck at the slots or blackjack tables. Or go dance till the wee hours at Central Station, where the best in live country western take to the outdoor stage (we were inches away from Frankie Ballard and his band) and perform nightly during the celebration. Stay at the Hampton Inn next door to the Casino or The Towne Place Suites by Marriott, a short drive to the rodeo grounds. If you want the true cowboy experience, stay at Moore Longhorn Ranch, 45 miles southeast of Dodge. There you and your family can experience a day in the life of a working cowboy.
However, if you really want THE authentic cowboy experience, you must go back to where it all began, Andalucía, Spain. That’s right. Cowboy is literally an American translation of the Spanish word vaquero. It is a style of herding cattle born out of the hacienda system of medieval Spain. First in Service, a premier travel company suggests you stay at The Hacienda de San Rafael situated between Seville and Jerez de la Fontera. It’s an 18th century olive estate that has been restored and converted into a luxury hideaway. While there you and your family can visit the famous Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre, for a traditional 18th century equestrian ballet performed to classical flamenco guitar. Then visit La Yeguada de la Cartuja, where you’ll find Jerezano horses. Campo Abierto, Finca los Albujeros, breeds renowned bullfighting horses. Three times a week the venue offers classical dressage performances for you to view. You can also take private jumping classes at the Pineda Club, or take a two-hour ride at the private home of the Colonel in Chief of the old cavalry regiment based in Seville.
The Vaquero life predominated in Central and South America as well. So, if you want to get out of Dodge but don’t want to travel to Europe there are plenty of opportunities South of the Equator. Here are two of my favorites.
SAN ANTONIO DE ARECO, ARGENTINA
This year visit San Antonio de Areco, Argentina November 1 through 9 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Fiesta de la Tradición. Gauchos from all over the country, representing particular regions or estancias, gather for the one-week festival ready to show off the equestrian acrobatics they’ve been honing all year.
Much like the US rodeo circuit, the Gaucho Games includeJineteada, Argentine’s version of bronco riding. Then there is Corrida de sortija, the ring race, which dates back to the 17th century. In this competition the horseman rides at breakneck speed to thread a needle through a ring no larger than a wedding ring, loosely hanging between two posts.Pato, the National sport of Argentina is horseback riding with combined elements of polo and basketball. The festival also includes folk music, dances and exhibitions of local craftwork. You can head to the Parque Criollo for lunch. Not to be missed is Dia de la Tradición, the finale of the event and last day of the festival. Hundreds of gauchos, in their best traditional dress, parade on the cobblestone streets through the center of town.
Consider booking your stay at one of the oldest estancias in Argentina, La Bamba de Areco, this month. Located in the midst of the Pampas, just an hour and 15 minutes from Buenos Aires. It’s less than eight miles from the festival. While there you’ll be treated to many gaucho traditions such as ‘asados,’ (Argentine barbeques), ‘mate’ tasting (a special tea) and shows of equestrian skills such as horse whispering. You can ride horses in the Pampa, go mountain biking, fly-fishing, enjoy traditional cuisine, and study the Southern Constellation through a state-of-the-art telescope.
Wealthy Spanish conquistadors, from the sixteenth century, conscripted Native American vaqueros to herd their cattle. Three hundred years later, these same vaquero’s taught the inexperienced settlers of the American West how to round up cattle, bring down a steer, and break a wild bronco. Every year in mid-July the “Fiestas de Santiago” is held in the small town of Santiago, just outside of Manzanillo. There’s a carnival, nightly dances in the bullring, and the charreada. A charreada is basically a rodeo, with rope tricking, horsemanship, bull riding, bronco riding, and steer roping. Except these events are held as team competitions versus solo showmanship, and both men and women participate. The intermissions (while the next bull and rider are getting ready) you’ll be entertained with “banda” music, while couples dance Mexican “salsa” in the aisles. If you’re planning to visit this Fiesta, stay at The Latit Real Hacienda De Santiago or Las Palomas de Santiago.