By Alex Groves
A rodeo may not be the first thing that comes to mind when a person thinks of bustling, urbane Orange County, but one of the more significant rodeo events in the country takes place here every year.
The 18th annual Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo will feature world champion cowboys and will take place on Aug. 25 and 26 at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano.
The top 30 contestants in each of six professional Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) events will compete for their chance to win prize money from a $180,000 purse.
The six events in this year’s rodeo are bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling, tie down roping and team roping. Gilbert Aguirre, executive vice president of ranch operations at Rancho Mission Viejo, said all the events have practical applications at actual ranches.
For example, a person might tie down a calf in order to be able to provide it medical treatment or remove something bothersome such as a burr.
Aguirre said that rodeos started as a competition between ranchers to see whose cowboys were the best at certain skill sets. Over time it evolved into the spectator sport it is today.
South Orange County and other parts of Southern California were once occupied by many ranchers. Aguirre said he and members of the O’Neill/Avery/Moiso family that own the Rancho Mission Viejo land wanted to introduce people to that history and ranching culture so they started the rodeo 18 years ago.
“We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to share with South Orange County Rancho Mission Viejo, our ranching heritage and the world of Rodeo. The values which we cherish are those of the ranching world,” Tony Moiso, chairman and chief executive officer pf Rancho Mission Viejo, said. “The Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo allows us to keep our region’s cowboy culture alive while honoring the old cowboy tradition of ‘passing the hat’ in support of a sick child or needy friend. Over the past 18 years, we’ve contributed $2.1 million dollars to local charities and we’re pretty proud of that.”
This year funds from the event will go to support JF Shea Therapeutic Riding Center, The Boys and Girls Club of Capistrano Valley and The Children’s Hospital of Orange County at Mission Medical Center.
“The ranch does not make one dime off this rodeo and in fact it costs us money,” Aguirre said. “And the fact that we give back to the community, that’s the best thing we can do.”
The rodeo this year will host the top 30 people in each of the six different events and the first place winner from each of the events will be able to take home $10,000, according to Aguirre.
There will be monetary prizes, in smaller amounts, up to seventh place, he said.
Aguirre said the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo is an important competition in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association season. A person’s placement within rankings is dependent on how much money they’ve taken home from competitions and the RMV Rodeo is one of the higher paying ones.
“If you win our rodeo you could get catapulted into the top 15 and go to Las Vegas and be in a position to win lots of dollars,” he said.
Aguirre is referring to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December, the biggest and most lucrative competition for PRCA contestants. The finals only accept the top 15 people in each of the different events as of the end of the regular season, which is Sept. 30.
There’s lots to do at the rodeo beyond just seeing the different events, according to Senior Vice President of Ranch Operations Lissa Freese.
She said that there will be nearly 50 vendors as well as food trucks at the event so people can try on some Western-themed apparel or enjoy some gourmet food between events.
She said a concert and dance will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday. Band Grand Junction takes the stage and will perform their signature country music. Freese said it’s a nice conclusion to the first day’s events.
“Most people kind of walk out of the stands from watching the rodeo and right into the concert,” she said.
For younger visitors there will be a variety of activities that include face painting, a rock wall and pony rides. Freese said one of her favorite things is seeing the younger crowd get acquainted with Orange County’s western heritage.
“It’s very, very fun to walk through the audience and through the vendor area and see these little kids that have never seen a horse, to be able to see horses or ride a pony and see that cowboys are real, ranches are real and it’s very fun to expose them to what Tony and Gilbert do every day,” she said.
Admission for the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo is $30 for adults and $10 for kids 4 to 12. Kids 3 and under get in free. Gates open at 1 p.m. on Aug. 25 and 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 26.
The Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano is located at 27174 Ortega Highway.