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By Allison Jarrell

It’s that time of year again, when South Orange County residents don their hats and boots and get in touch with the cowboy way of life.

The 17th annual Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo will run Aug. 26-27 at the RMV Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano. Lauded as the “richest two-day rodeo in the world,” this year’s event will award $175,000 in prize money—$25,000 to the winner of each event, and $50,000 for the winning roping team. Each year, the top 30 cowboys in each event travel to San Juan to compete in saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping and team roping.

This year, we sat down with Tony Moiso, chairman and chief executive officer for Rancho Mission Viejo, LLC, and Gilbert Aguirre, executive vice president of ranch operations for Rancho Mission Viejo, to talk about what has made the RMV Rodeo a success over the years. Moiso and Aguirre are the chairmen of the rodeo committee, which has a total of five members.

Scott Schmitt/San Juan Photo & Digital
Scott Schmitt/San Juan Photo & Digital

Moiso and Aguirre said the rodeo was started 17 years ago in an effort to celebrate their ranching history, as well as introduce the sport of rodeo to the South Orange County community.

A big motivation of Moiso and Aguirre is helping the cowboys by giving them a chance to move up the ranks before the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December (the cowboys’ “super bowl,” as Aguirre puts it). The final rodeo in Las Vegas takes the 15 top-paid cowboys to compete for $10 million—a pay day they wait for all year.

The Ranch takes the top 30 cowboys in each category, and awards eight prizes—this year from a $175,000 purse. With only one major rodeo left after the RMV Rodeo (the Pendleton Round-up in Pendleton, Oregon on Oct. 1) it gives the cowboys who are lower in the ranks a chance to jump into the finals.

“One of the reasons we program this rodeo in late August is to give the cowboys “sitting on the bubble” a chance to make it to the big time, which is Las Vegas—their big pay day for the year,” Aguirre said.

Rodeo organizers also strive to provide the cowboys who compete with the best stock possible. And it’s a goal that Moiso and Aguirre take seriously.

Scott Schmitt/San Juan Photo & Digital
Scott Schmitt/San Juan Photo & Digital

Utilizing their friends and connections in the rodeo world, the Ranch uses three stock contractors— Flying U Rodeo in Marysville, CA, Cervi Championship Rodeo in Greeley, Colorado; and Flying 5 Rodeo Company in Washington—and pays $1,000 per horse to have them transported to the Ranch.

For roping, Moiso said Aguirre has already had 50 calves delivered to the Ranch, and they’re grazing out at Cow Camp now.  Ranch hands will work to make sure they’re healthy and about the same weight, so cowboys roping have an even playing field.

“These calves have never been roped, and they’re only roped once here at the rodeo,” Aguirre said. “And then we keep them and we put them into our cow herd, and two years down the road, they become cows. So we take good care of them.”

Another important aspect of the Ranch’s rodeo tradition is donating money each year to local charities, a nod to the old cowboy tradition of “passing the hat” and helping friends and family when they need it most. Since the rodeo’s inception, about $1.9 million has been donated to area charities. This year, organizations like the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center, CHOC at Mission Hospital and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley will benefit from rodeo donations.

Scott Schmitt/San Juan Photo & Digital
Scott Schmitt/San Juan Photo & Digital

And when we asked what the rodeo means to Moiso, Aguirre and their families?

“Everything,” Moiso smiled. “They’re some of our earliest memories. Gilbert grew up competing in rodeos, and some of my earliest memories are of my mother taking me to rodeos. It was a big deal in Los Angeles 70 years ago.”

Aguirre was quick to add that for him, the tradition means putting on a bigger and better rodeo each year, to the best of their capabilities.

“It’s got our name on it—the Rancho Mission Viejo name,” Aguirre said. “And if it’s going to have that name on it, it’s going to be the best. That’s what we strive for. That’s all we have, our reputation. You ride for the brand. It’s going to be our best, or else we’re not interested.”


Going to the Rodeo

Saturday, Aug. 26

Gates Open: 1 p.m.
Entertainment & Vendor Area: 1 p.m.
Opening Ceremonies: 3:45 p.m.
Rodeo Begins: 4 p.m.
Concert & Dance: 6 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 27

Gates Open: 11:30 a.m.
Entertainment & Vendor Area: 11:30 a.m.
Opening Ceremonies: 1:15 p.m.
Rodeo Begins: 1:30 p.m.

Address: 30753 La Pata Avenue, San Juan Capistrano
Parking: $10 cash only
Tickets: $30 for adults, $10 for kids (4 -12 years old), kids 3 years old and under are free
Tickets are on sale at the following locations: Swallow’s Inn, Hennessey’s Tavern, Boot Barn, Wildfire Mercantile, Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, Esencia Visitor Center, Paper Annex
Tickets can also be purchased at the gate.
For more info, visit www.rmvrodeo.com.

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