NO, it’s not a scene straight out of an old Lito Lapid flick, where people dress like cowboys, ride horses into the sunset and sing songs accentuated by a yodel or two.
The scene is real, and it is right in the heart of Masbate.
If you think that cowboys (or cowgirls for that matter) can only be found in the western world, then you’ve never been to Masbate, site of the Philippine Rodeo Festival held annually every after Holy Week.
A Filipino cowboy? Can it be possible?
Yes, and he is not in a world of make believe. In Masbate, the cowboy doesn’t save the damsel in distress or wear a mask or figure in a gunbattle against the bad guys. There, he rides the horse around the ranch, raises and herds cattle and once a year, competes against fellow cowboys from all over the country.
This year, the event, spearheaded by Rodeo Masbateno Inc. was held from April 1 to 15, showcasing the Filipino cowboy skills and featuring rodeo competitions, horse parade, calesa ride, street barn dancing, livestock show, trade fair, beer plaza with nightly events, a beef-cooking contest, cattle drive and herding, and ranch tour, among others.
The Rodeo Festival has been an integral part of the culture of Masbateños, gaining the province the title, the Home of Philippine Rodeo. It is, in fact, so big of a deal, that it even eclipses Christmas and New Year in terms of the celebration and all-out support and participation from the common folk.
The festival may be one of the Philippines’ lesser known revelries. But all that is about to change very soon, as the province has begun the machinery to drumbeat it for local and foreign tourists alike. But even with the national consciousness not looking, organizers haven’t stopped outdoing themselves, making it bigger year after year.
This time around, some 230 heads of cattle valued at about P8 million participated in the Rodeo National Finals staged at the Masbate City Grand Rodeo Arena. After all, Masbate is home to some 54,000 cattle from 50 ranches and folks here have found a way to use them to their advantage.
Rodeo National Director Leo Gozum said the cattle complemented the 50 teams composed of some 500 professional cowboys and cowgirls (yes, even the girls join the fun) from all over the country, who registered to demonstrate their cattle-handling skills. There were also 30 teams of students (300 individuals), who competed in the National Finals.
A seasoned rancher himself, who has been the Rodeo Director of the festival for more than five years, Gozum explained that they do not just choose any cow or bull to go to the rodeo arena. They also ensure that they are healthy before the start of the competitions, as well as during and after.
During the competitions, they also secure the conditions of the animals through feeding management where they make sure that 5 to 10 kilos of grasses are consumed by each cow or bull and that they are given anti-stress nutrients and vitamins, among other measures.
“The safety and welfare of both the participant and the cattle have always been a priority. Thankfully, there has not been an incident when a participating animal or cowboy was hurt or was seriously injured in the past,” said Gozum.
The cattle events during the Rodeo National Finals include Casting, Carambola, Bull Riding, One-man Wrestling, Steer Wrestling from Horseback, and Steer Lassoing from Horseback.
“It’s called a ranch rodeo because activities inside the ranch are the ones being played,” Gozum said. “Ang rodeo dito, hindi katulad sa Las Vegas, USA. Dito kung ano ‘yung pang-araw-araw na ginagawa sa rancho, ‘yun din yung ginawa nating competition. Sa US, iilang events lang like roping, bulldogging, at saka bullriding.”
What also differentiates the Philippine rodeo from that of the US is the number of participants.
“Team-based mostly ang rodeo dito, mayroong team of two and then four (karambola). Sa US, individual ang pagsali,” said Rodeo Masbateño president Judge Manuel Sese, who revealed that even if he hasn’t joined in the competitions in the past, he definitely knows how to handle cattle if the need arises. After all, he is owner of one of the provinces’s biggest ranches.
“When a cow is injured or hurt, I know how to bring it down to the ground so that it can be given medical attention,” said Sese. “That is what we do here in Masbate, that is our way of life.”