A little bit of country came to East Palo Alto on Sunday, June 22, when the city's first rodeo took place at Ravenswood Ranch on Weeks Street.
The all-day event, dubbed Big Hope Little Rodeo, saw bull riding, barrel races, roping, mutton busting, dancing horses and a stick-horse race for kids. The event raised funds for the Abilities United early-intervention program for children with developmental disabilities as well as scholarships for low-income children to receive early intervention therapies.
Event organizer Jose Rojas said he was still feeling the day's excitement on Monday. About 800 people and families watched 56 contestants compete, with bull riders and ropers coming from as far away as Reno, Nevada; Gilroy and Half Moon Bay, he said. The numbers aren't in yet, but Rojas said he thinks he made his goal to raise $5,000. The event took in $11,000 to $12,000 before expenses, he said.
Rojas' love for all-things-rodeo dates back to his childhood in Mexico, where he learned to ride and dreamed of competing in rodeos. But his greatest inspiration to host the East Palo Alto event, he said, are his 2-year-old twin boys, one of whom has Down syndrome and uses early-invention services from Abilities United, he said.
Raising their twin sons, Rojas and his wife soon learned there are many low-income children with disabilities who can't afford the early-intervention therapies they need. The couple decided they could combine their passion for rodeos and horses with their love for children and community involvement, he said, to launch the fundraiser.
Rojas' affinity for horses and children extends across all aspects of his life. He now owns eight ponies and nine horses. He said he and his wife plan to become certified to provide equine therapy to children who can benefit from horseback riding. He also started a pony-ride business to encourage his children to ride and to give them the opportunities he didn't have as a child, he said. Now, his children all ride and rope and his 18-year-old daughter plans to become a veterinarian.
Rojas said he travels all over California providing pony rides and mechanical-bull rides at rodeos, but this is the first time he organized an event. He plans to put on another rodeo at Ravenswood next year, he said.
Ravenswood Ranch at 1103 Weeks St., which hosted the event, is the only urban ranch of its kind, serving children and adults in East Palo Alto and surrounding communities. The ranch aims to teach the community basic skills from gardening to animal care as well as expose residents to other possible career and recreation options. The cities of East Palo Alto and Redwood City sponsored the rodeo.