by Betty L. Martin
HOUSTON, March 22 (Xinhua) -- The high points of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo this year are to make the world's largest rodeo educationally relevant to foreigners as well as Texas locals, an official has said.
"Each year, the show celebrates its rich western heritage. During the run of the show, we create educational exhibits for our guests to learn the importance of agriculture and the awareness of the industry that surrounds them every day," said Leroy Shafer, the rodeo's chief operating officer.
Shafer said the show was founded in 1931 as a way to promote the cattle industry of the Texas Gulf Coast and has grown into one of the most prestigious livestock shows in the country, one that includes approximately 27,000 livestock and horse show entries.
An example of ways in which the rodeo's exhibits directly educates people about western heritage includes RodeoHouston, which nightly presents professional cowboys from throughout the United States and Canada in competitions such as bronc and bull riding, steer wrestling and other feats that originated in the duties of ranch hands and in matches between cowboys and between neighboring ranches.
"The bronc riding events evolved from the practice of taming wild horses to be ridden," Shafer said.
To better educate children and adults alike about the basic aspects of agriculture, the rodeo includes a pavilion filled with interactive exhibits of sights, sounds and textures one might find on a farm or ranch.
The pavilion is named Adventure, and it is a busy and popular place on the Reliant Park grounds where the rodeo is continuing this year's March 4-23 run.
"We set up a milking parlor to demonstrate where milk comes from. There is a birthing center that features live births, including baby calves, lambs and pigs," he said. "Outdoors, the Fun on the Farm teaches young children about life on a farm."
Another way the rodeo serves as an educational platform is in fostering future college studies through its scholarship program for the junior high and high school students who participate in their livestock or art projects.
More than 350 million U.S. dollars has been committed through the rodeo's scholarship fund for young people in Texas. The rodeo education committee's educational commitment for this year alone is 23 million dollars.
"In addition to scholarships, the show supports students enrolled in graduate programs at 11 different Texan universities. Through educational program grants, the show supports various Houston and state-wide organizations," Shafer said.
"Through this support, many of the organizations the show supports benefit Texas youth at a younger age, including programs like the Children's Museum of Houston, Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston, Glassel School of Art and The Health Museum."
The educational reach of the Houston show can also be seen in the visitors from beyond U.S. borders, visitors for whom the show provides translators to help them conduct their ranching business.
"In 2014, 2,054 guests from 70 countries and regions registered their visits to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo with the International Committee. These guests are typically ranchers that come to the U.S. and to the show to conduct agricultural business, primarily during the open cattle shows," Shafer said.
Even before the rodeo starts, students and businesses can be seen donning Western apparel on "Go Texan Day" in support of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
"The Western Heritage Community Challenge Committee encourages businesses to decorate their offices and dress in western attire. They also host a coloring contest and distribute a children's activity book that educates students about agriculture," Shafer said. "In addition, the Speakers Committee provides speeches to students and other organizations, many with a western heritage theme."
About 50,000 students participate each year in scheduled school tours and field trips at the Houston rodeo, one of the world's largest, most intensive classrooms for learning about western life and agriculture.