Rodeo time in Houston always brings out visitors and locals alike, and 2017 looks to be no different. As the trail riders made their way down Shepherd Drive last week (officially signaling the beginning of the annual festivities), there were plenty of smiles all around as residents had the opportunity to not only pet the horses pulling the carriages, but also learn about the trail ride and its origins.
Beyond that, one of our neighbors cannot let the moment pass by him each year without taking part in the festivities. From being part of a cookoff team to taking part in various rodeo committees, Johnny Rojas is one Leader resident who is selling the Houston culture to locals and visitors while experiencing the joys himself.
The Houston Rodeo has been a key cog in Leader-area resident Johnny Rojas’ life since his late teens — but even now, his passion for exposing the public to the rodeo culture with his rodeo crew remains as full as ever as he prepares for yet another year in the saddle.
As the trail rides ushered in the beginning of rodeo season last week, Rojas was already knee-deep in the experience once again as part of the Bottomless Pit Cook Team for the seventh consecutive year, all the while prepping for his fourth season as a senior art committeeman.
Coming full circle
“I’ve been going to the rodeo since I was in high school in the late 80s, and for me to start participating in it was just the next step,” Rojas said. “Me being a professional artist, the school art committee was just the next step in my career.”
While this may be just Rojas’ fourth season as an art committeeman, his roots in the event extend even further, to his days as a young Houstonian in the late 80s.
“I also participated in drawing as a student, so this is one of those full circle deals coming around to where I’m a committeeman. It was just the step to get to the next level,” he said.
Experiencing a culture
The moment Rojas joined a rodeo cookoff team two decades ago (and the art committee four seasons ago), he experienced a culture shift which remains to this day.
“When you’re a part of the committee and part of the cook team, you’re actually joining a family, a team-oriented group, and with that you make long-time relationships and friendships,” he said.
While his family of rodeo committee members conducts their events during rodeo time, he said part of the joy also lies in the pleasure of exposing the public to the true experience of the rodeo.
“The cookoff is the kickoff party to the rodeo, and there are a lot of international people who come to the cookoff because they want to experience the cowboy part—and the food is part of that mystique,” he said.
From there, visitors can go to the rodeo itself—where the real show begins.
“A lot of people have never seen cows, or horses—that’s a big deal to them,” he said, laughing. “We get so many visitors from the rodeo – especially with this growth of Houston – where this is their first time visiting. It’s about exposing new people to it and seeing the joy as folks get a thrill from seeing the whole show—the cookoff and the rodeo. That’s what makes us part of it. It’s better to be a participant than just a spectator.”
With the seasonal bash having become part of the fabric of Houston culture — and recognized as one of the best in the world — Rojas believes selling the culture to visitors and locals alike helps in keeping the cowboy heritage alive.
“I grew up in Richmond, so growing up, I was around a bunch of cowboys and all that ranching stuff. I grew up with these guys, and we’ve got to keep the heritage alive and expose them to it,” he said. “It’s a piece of Texas, and I think all of us love being a part of it and exposing our children to it so it doesn’t get forgotten.”