The crowd cheers for Mutton Bustin’ kids; teenagers scream on carnival rides with flashing lights; cattle bellow, horses whinny and pigs squeal in their pens — these are just a few of the exciting sounds of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™.
But for some adults and children, these sights and sounds can be overwhelming and ruin what should be an exciting, fun-filled trip. Some families choose not to attend at all because it can be too difficult to navigate or hard to include caregivers. This is where the Rodeo’s Special Children’s Committee steps in to help make the Rodeo enjoyable for all.
For guests who may be overwhelmed by the noise and general hubbub, the Rodeo provides quiet rooms throughout the grounds that have low lighting and no music. Families and individuals can use the rooms as needed. “The Rodeo is an incredibly fun place to go and, if it’s not accessible, you have a whole community of people who aren’t able to attend,” Special Children’s Committee Chair Stacy Anderson said.
“One mom had never attempted to come to the carnival before, but they were able to go this year [because of the quiet rooms],” Anderson said.
In 2020, the Rodeo began hosting a Sensory Friendly Day to provide an accommodating and positive experience for all guests with sensory sensitivities or challenges. This year, the Special Children’s Committee assisted with the event and gave away more than 500 backpacks filled with sensory-friendly toys donated by Rodeo sponsors. Anderson hopes to give away even more in the future.
In addition to support for guests with sensory sensitivities, the committee assists guests with mobility issues as well. Committee members meet guests on Kirby and take them straight to their seats, removing any potential challenges with crowds or navigating the massive grounds. “The Rodeo can be a very overwhelming place, and we take some of that anxiety out for them and make it feel smaller,” Anderson said.
The Special Children’s Committee also provides a variety of programs that make the Rodeo accessible for special needs guests. Before the Rodeo begins, the committee hosts the Top Hands Horse Show, a competition for riders of all ages and skill levels from therapeutic riding facilities across Texas. The Rodeo pays for everything, including meals, so participants do not have to worry about costs to attend.
The committee also hosts the Lil’ Rustlers Rodeo — a three-day competition for special needs children — and provides free day-tours and concert tickets for special needs schools and adult day groups. More than 1,000 guests attend each night and sit in special reserved seating in NRG Stadium.
“I think it’s so important for the community to have these opportunities,” Anderson said. “They want to get out and be part of the bigger community. They want to participate like everyone else. These programs let them feel wanted, needed and comfortable.”