Gilroy Rodeo to return in August

On Thursday Jade Katen-Ynzunza was crowned the 2018 Gilroy rodeo queen, and her grandmother Joyce Vieira was named the grand marshall. Pictured with them is Vieira's mother, Dorothy Mosby. Credit Bryce Stoepfel

In the hills that surround Gilroy and Morgan Hill, the west is still wild. Cowboys still ride and rope, same as they did back in the day of Henry Miller’s reign as the “Cattle King of California.”

This summer, a reminder of the Santa Clara Valley’s past and present will descend on Gilroy Aug. 11-12. The Gilroy Rodeo is back after a 62-year hiatus.

“I asked my wife, Kendra, ‘Why isn’t there a rodeo in town?’” Rodeo Director Erik Martin said. “She said, ‘Because all the other wives said no.’ Well, she said yes.”

What started as a conversation between husband and wife turned into almost two years of planning and work. The Gilroy Rodeo is a nonprofit event, designed to be family-friendly, with the ultimate goal of donating revenue to local organizations such as 4-H that help preserve the county’s western heritage.

The new home will be on a 62-acre ranch on Ferguson Road, a former dairy farm owned by Bill Furtado, Martin’s grandfather-in-law. There, the Gilroy Rodeo is building a 150-by-310-foot arena, large enough to seat more than 6,300 people.

“We’re proud to host this event on our family ranch,” Martin, 43, said.

There’s a lot more than cowboys and steers that goes into organizing a rodeo, and wrangling with county regulations has proved to be as formidable as a charging bull.

“It’s been a headache,” Martin said. “You need to jump through a lot of hoops in the world we live in. And most ranchers don’t like to do that.”

Thankfully, Martin has a stable of 60 enthusiastic volunteers. On May 24 they met at the Old City Hall in Gilroy to crown the Rodeo’s grand marshall and the 2018 Miss Gilroy Rodeo.

In a place that values its agricultural heritage, Gilroy has not had a rodeo since the Gymkhana shut down in 1956. The site of the old Gymkhana is now home of South Valley Middle School. The 2018 Gilroy Rodeo will be the only rodeo in Santa Clara County.

While nearby rodeos such as the massive California Rodeo in Salinas and the San Benito County Saddle Horse Show and Rodeo are going strong, the Gilroy Rodeo will give local riders a chance to shine in the arena.

“This is a hometown rodeo,” Martin said. “The difference between the California Rodeo and us is that they are a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo and we’re going with the California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association. It’s kind of like a farm league. They have insurance, and anyone can sign up for it with a one-day permit. The sign-ups open two to four weeks before the rodeo.”

It will be an action-packed August weekend for the Gilroy Rodeo. Aside from the rodeo competition, there’ll be a dance, a cowboy church, music and a full-on display of what cowboy life is all about.

“We’re going to do things that simulate what you do on a ranch,” Martin said. “You’ll see what working cowboys do.”

Martin, the owner of a construction company, grew up on his family’s ranch outside of Escondido. As Escondido grew, the ranch was eventually swallowed up by urban sprawl. He now hopes to pass along his family’s ranching tradition to his son Maverick, daughter Cora-Lee and one more child on the way.

Gilroy High alumnus Jade Katen-Ynzunza, a marketing and biology major at Northern Arizona University was crowned the 2018 rodeo queen, and her grandmother Joyce Vieira was named the grand marshall.

“I’ve been a rodeo queen before, so I know it’s quite a responsibility,” Katen-Ynzunza, 21, said.  “You need to be the face of the rodeo, you talk with the news, and you need to be a role model for kids.”

Vieira, who owns and operates a ranch on Day Road, still rides high in the saddle and, at age 77, ropes and rides with visitors to her ranch. Being rodeo royalty is not new for her: In 1959 she was queen of the San Jose Firefighters Rodeo.


  1. This is depressing news. (SEE LINK BELOW.) It’s good to bring the community together, of course, but surely there are more humane and life-affirming options than rodeo. I attended the Rowell Ranch Rodeo in Castro Valley only last week, where yet another saddle bronc suffered a broken back and shoulder, and had to be euthanized. Worse, a vendor was selling toy AK-47 assault rifles to the kids, only one day after the latest school massacre in Santa Fe, Texas. This abuse and desensitization needs to stop–it’s killing the planet.

    Nearly EVERY animal protection organization in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand condemns rodeos due to their inherent cruelty. Injuries and deaths are routine. I was present at the 1995 California Rodeo/Salinas when FIVE animals suffered and died: three horses (broken leg, heart attack, broken neck); a wrestling steer (broken neck), and a roping calf (broken back)–the calf was not euthanized, but simply trucked off to slaughter, terrified and in agony, just to save a few bucks on the meat. Some “sport”! Rodeo is an exercise in DOMINATION, and has little to do with life on a working ranch. For most of the animals involved, it’s just a detour en route to the slaughterhouse. They (and we) deserve better. Even Cesar Chavez was an outspoken critic, as is Pope Francis.

    For anyone in doubt, see the link below to a May 18 rodeo segment shown on the 6:00pm news, KGO TV, Channel 7 out of San Francisco. I esp. loved the claim from the Rodeo Association president that, “They don’t feel fear. They’re animals!” The mind boggles. Any four-year-old knows better. Rodeo has had its day, and now belongs in the dustbin of history. BOYCOTT ALL RODEOS!

    Eric Mills, coordinator
    email – [email protected]

    • Eric, I have to agree with you even though I’ve gone to a lot of rodeos in my time, and even rode a pony horse for the races at the Salinas rodeo. “We used to do it so it’s ok now” is a poor excuse. I’ll gladly stay away from this rodeo.

  2. Is there by openings of hiring or anything? Because I would love to help out at the rodeo and get hands on with any work.

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