The Festa do Peao de Boiadeiro (Cowboy Festival) in the north of Brazil’s Sao Paulo state may not have the name recognition of Canada’s annual Calgary Stampede or the audience (2.3 million) of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. But Latin America’s largest rodeo is still a crowd-pleaser.
This year’s Festa, held August 18-28, drew 980,000 visitors to Barretos, a city of just 112,000 located 273 miles (440 kilometers) from the city of Sao Paulo. First held in 1956, the event is now a key part of Brazil’s transnational rodeo circuit. The organizers, Os Independentes (The Independents), say this year’s rodeo attracted 600 athletes from Brazil, France, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, and the U.S., along with 1,550 animals–and used 370 tons of feed. The $17 million needed to hold the 11-day event pumped $117 million into the region’s economy and created 15,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to public relations agency Phabrica de Ideias.
Barretos, a historical center of Latin American beef production, was a natural spot to start a rodeo. It rose to national prominence in 1999 when Minister of Sport Rafael Greca proclaimed rodeo an official national sport. In 2006, the Liga Nacional de Rodeio (National Rodeo League) was formed to further professionalize rodeo and promote the Barretos competition and the circuit of smaller rodeos around it.
Events include traditional saddle bronc and bareback riding, bulldog (where riders immobilize a steer without ropes or lassoes) and team penning (a group of three riders must separate 30 steers)–as well as the distinctly Brazilian competition of cutiano, which requires riders to hold a horse’s reins with one hand without touching any part of the animal with the other.
For this year’s 24-year-old bull-riding champion, Juberto Morales from the state of Mato Grosso, the prestige of Barretos is all that really mattered: “I haven’t decided what to do with the prize money; I just wanted to be champion of Barretos,” he says.
For those who want to escape the Oscar Niemeyer-designed stadium, organizers hold an annual cooking competition, A Queima do Alho (The Garlic Burning), which recreates cooking conditions in an era when Barretos was just the land of cowboys.