Think of it as the spectacle before the spectacle.
Just as every opera has its overture, every Fort Worth Stock Show rodeo begins with a grand entry — a dazzling parade of outstanding horseflesh, square-jawed cowboys, elaborately attired rodeo queens, colorful banners and flags, pulse-racing music and, of course, a couple of baggy-pants clowns bringing up the rear.
The World’s Original Indoor Rodeo had its first performance Friday night.
“I think it really gets the crowd started,” says Allen Grossman, a Stock Show employee who rides in all of the grand entries and serves as a sort of watchdog, in case a horse or rider gets in trouble. “It really spurs people into action — and gets them ready for all the action they are about to see.”
The grand entry is such an important ritual that it has its own office and staff at the Will Rogers Memorial Center.
It is a great tradition. And we like a big grand entry.
Sherry Pleasants, who heads the grand entry office
“We might have anywhere from 50 to 300 riders in the grand entry,” says Sherry Pleasants, who heads the grand entry office at the Stock Show. “It is a great tradition. And we like a big grand entry. We don’t say no to people [who are qualified to participate].”
It is Pleasants’ job to line up all the individuals and groups participating in the grand entry at each performance. Some of them are automatic, such as members of Stock Show’s executive committee and the women who carry the numerous flags.
Among the others participating in the grand entry are several area riding clubs, the Fort Worth Police Department’s mounted patrol, usually a rodeo queen or two, members of the rodeo’s production team, some of the cowboys and cowgirls participating in the rodeo and, on occasion, Mayor Betsy Price.
“The [rodeo] cowboys used to be required to ride. But now some do and some don’t,” says Pleasants, who is in her first year of running the grand entry office after 24 years of assisting Nubbin Moore, who oversaw the office for 61 years before retiring last year.
After Pleasants has determined who will be participating in a given grand entry, it is Grossman’s job to police the order in which they will enter the arena. And that job, it turns out, is a science.
‘I’m watching everybody’
“If I think we might have an issue with a horse or rider, I put them up toward the front. I have a little bit of help up there because a couple of the rodeo pickup men are up there,” says Grossman, who has been part of the grand entry team for 35 years. “The people who are the most experienced, I put them at the back because a lot of times you have to run out at the tail end.”
When Grossman is in the arena, his focus is entirely on the horses and riders around him.
“I’m watching everybody and every horse out there. I couldn’t tell you if there is a large crowd or a small crowd. I very seldom look up there,” says Grossman, a rancher from Cleburne who also works in the construction industry.
But over the years, I don’t really remember any real bad injuries.
Allen Grossman, the watchdog rider at the grand entry
Not that intervention is often needed in the grand entry, which is the only event at the rodeo that is not absurdly dangerous.
“There have been occasions where we’ve had to walk somebody off or carry them out,” Grossman says. “But over the years, I don’t really remember any real bad injuries.”
Pleasants says some of the rookie riders are a little nervous.
“But I try to reassure them by telling them, ‘You’re not under a microscope. Just please don’t fall off,’ ” she says.
One of the relatively new regulars in this year’s grand entries is a rider who has been around the event her entire life, Pleasant’s 26-year-old daughter, Ashley Pleasants.
“Since I was 16 [the minimum age for participation in the grand entry], I have ridden a few times off and on,” Ashley says. “But school and work kept me away for several years, and it didn’t work out for me to participate on a regular basis until the last two years.”
‘The flashier the better’
Ashley Pleasants is completely comfortable with her involvement in the grand entry. But she can remember her early experiences at the Stock Show rodeos, which were quite different.
“I remember how nervous I was. I had ridden most of my life. But it is a completely different type of riding when you are doing it in front of hundreds of people watching your every move,” she says.
This year, she is riding a borrowed horse named Prieto, whom she gives a lovingly, but qualified, review.
“I think he’s pretty much lazy. Half the time, I can hardly get him over a trot. But he is a gentle, good horse, so I have been very fortunate with that,” says Ashley, who is an IT project coordinator at Orion Communications in Dallas.
In addition to having the right horse for the event, Ashley also has to be concerned with what she is wearing. All riders have to adhere to a dress code that requires long-sleeve shirts with collars, cowboy hats and Western-style boots. But the grand entry is something of a Western wear fashion show for the female participants, who often add even more sparkle to the inherently colorful event.
“It is definitely a process with the clothing,” says Ashley, who has multiple outfits ready for her grand entry duties. “I take the approach of the flashier the better. It’s more fun.”
And people are not used to Western wear in Dallas.
Ashley Pleasants, participant in the grand entry
The only slight problem is that she sometimes has to wear her grand entry clothes to her job in order to get to the rodeo in time after work.
“And people are not used to Western wear in Dallas,” she says.