Gilbert Gamez lifted himself into a horse-drawn wagon, just minutes before the Fort Worth All Western Parade began.
Gamez, now 59, attended his first parade 58 years ago as a newborn baby.
“I was born and raised in Fort Worth,” said Gamez, a parade director. “This is like the Super Bowl. Actually, it’s better than the Super Bowl.”
Gamez was among the thousands who filled the streets of downtown Fort Worth on Saturday to cheer on the unofficial kickoff to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
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The parade featured more than 200 entries, including vintage trolleys, horse-drawn carriages, marching bands and area riding clubs. With no motorized vehicles, organizers bill the event as the country’s largest all-Western parade.
Basking in relatively warm temperatures, parade-goers lined the 18-block route that started outside the Tarrant County Courthouse and marched down Main Street and back up Houston Street.
Longtime fans of the parade said the annual event inspires a special sort of devotion.
“It gets in your blood,” said Frank Rush of Carrollton, who has driven wagons in 48 past parades. “We never miss it.”
Stephanie Rivera grew up attending the Stock Show parade every year with her family. This year, she decided to bring her own three young daughters, Serenity, Charisma and Destiny, for the first time. As a child, she said, the marching bands and horses were the biggest draw. This year’s parade featured eight bands and more than 2,000 horses.
“I wanted my girls to see something from my childhood,” said Rivera, who lives in Fort Worth. “It looks the same after all these years.”
Nearby, Larry “Waddie” Cotton, an amateur trick roper, offered kids and adults lessons on roping. With a flick of a wrist, he showed off a trick called the “Wedding Ring.”
“I always like to say the wedding ring is easy to get into,” Cotton said. “But it’s hard to get out of.”
Wearing a brown cowboy hat and American flag bandana, Cotton attended the parade to cheer for his friends in the Cowtown Opera, a musical group that plays every Sunday in the Stockyards and rides a wagon through the parade.
To Gamez, no event better signifies Fort Worth’s cowboy culture than this parade.
“This is the best city in the world,” Gamez said, “and this parade just belongs here.”