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Rodeo-ing with little ones

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Eden Pratka, Alyssa Pratka

GO HANDS-FREE Alyssa Pratka (pictured, with daughter Eden), a mom of two and longtime volunteer for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, shares insight on packing light and going hands-free to the Rodeo grounds with a baby carrier or light stroller.

Buzz Baby is a column about life with little ones. Writer Annie McQueen is a mother of four children under the age of 9.

Since 1932, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has been not only an event in our city; it is an annual tradition. From the games and food at the carnival to the world-renowned Rodeo events, there is something for everyone. 

Alyssa Pratka, a seasoned rodeo-goer and mom of two, Eden, 5, and Owen, 8, holds many fond memories of attending Rodeo with her family. “[Harris] and I have been taking our kids every year since they were born, and it is so incredible to see their faces in awe of the animals, the games, and the shows,” said Alyssa. She has been a volunteer on the Mutton Bustin’ committee for over 12 years. 

A favorite memory was when her son, Owen, rode in the big arena in the Mutton Bustin’ event and won at the age of 5. This has remained a highlight for the family, especially when he was interviewed on the jumbo-tron. “It's an experience we will never forget,” she said, smiling. 

Alyssa shared her insights and best tips for making the most of a day at the Rodeo with small kids in tow. She says, first things first, be sure to plan ahead. “I try to make everything as smooth as possible to avoid any potential ‘hangry’ episodes or kid meltdowns,” she says. 

Alyssa Pratka, Eden Pratka, Owen Pratka, Harris Pratka

Owen Pratka won Mutton Bustin’ inside the big arena in 2022. Pictured are parents Alyssa and Harris with Owen and Eden.

To streamline the experience, she recommends downloading the free HLSR app (RodeoHouston on the app store) before attending and loading up your carnival and food tickets. On the app, you will find schedules, ticketing information, rules, and more. “Skipping the lines is a game-changer,” she said. “Purchase tickets ahead to walk right onto the grounds and find carnival ticket discounts.” 

She also plans their outfits ahead of time and orders personalized rodeo accessories, like monogrammed bandanas. These accessories make for cute photo opportunities and show off some Texan flare. However, comfort plays an important role in a smooth day for young kids, especially since it is a long day. “Rodeo boots are so cute,” said Alyssa. “But we brought our son in sneakers for years before he would wear boots all day.” Opting for light clothing and comfortable shoes will ensure that kids stay cool while running around. 

Alyssa’s go-to hack for the food scene with small kids is to skip the longer lines at the big tent. The Pratka family usually opts for the smaller side vendor tents for food. “They have plenty of options for hot dogs, popcorn, funnel cakes, and cotton candy,” said Alyssa. 

When it comes to wrangling kids, Alyssa stresses the importance of going hands-free. She used a baby carrier for one year at Rodeo, allowing her to move through the crowds with her baby. Strollers are allowed, but large strollers are hard to maneuver in the big crowds. Consider a wagon or umbrella stroller. Once inside NRG, there are dedicated stroller parking areas where parents must leave them during the show. While the Rodeo does not have a clear-bag policy, only small bags or backpacks are allowed (see under guest services for more information). Pack efficiently. 

“My husband and I both bring one backpack and pack light,” she says. “Remember, you'll be carrying anything your children win [at the carnival], too.”

She suggests packing necessities like sunscreen, refillable water bottles, and snacks to help minimize costs and ensure everyone stays hydrated throughout the day. A bottle of water is anywhere from $5-$10 at NRG, so bringing a water bottle that can be refilled at the water fountains will save money. 

Warren Tompkins

RODEO TIME IN HOUSTON The Tompkins family parks at South Main Baptist Church and rides the Metro light rail to the carnival, skipping the parking lines. Pictured is Warren Tompkins on the Metro.

Arriving early is another key strategy in Alyssa’s playbook. "We always go right when it opens to make parking bearable," she said. By parking in the yellow lot near the main entrance off Kirby, families can access Kids Country, the petting zoo, and other attractions with ease.

Alyssa said her family’s go-to spots are Kids Country, the petting zoo, and the carnival (find maps on “From rides to games to Mutton Bustin’, the carnival is where all the action is,” she said. And when it comes to Rodeo events, the Pratka family enjoys the Chuck Wagon Races, Bull Riding, Mutton Bustin’, and the Calf Scramble. 

The Tompkins family has also been venturing to the Rodeo for years. Their hack is to utilize the Metro light rail. Alli Tompkins, a mom of three, says they park at South Main Baptist Church and hop on from the lot. “This is our big hack,” said Alli. “It is the light rail before the carnival rides. The kids love it, and it is less hectic and expensive than parking at the stadium,” said Alli.

A few other tips that might come in handy for taking kids to the Rodeo are:

• Arrive early: Arriving when the Rodeo opens can significantly reduce wait times for rides and attractions. Weekends are popular, so aim for a weekday if possible. 

• Check times: Familiarize yourself with the carnival schedules, rides, and hours before heading down to Rodeo. 

• Consider a Fast Pass ($30/rider): One Buzz parent suggests investing in a fast pass, which grants expedited access to rides and attractions, saving time and minimizing waiting in line. Only valid day of purchase. Available at any onsite ticket box. 

• Plan activities: Keep an eye on the schedule for special events like Agventure and Fun on the Farm, which offer interactive and educational experiences for kids.

• Explore animal attractions: In addition to carnival rides, there are plenty of other attractions to explore, such as animal exhibits and agricultural displays. 

• Rodeo concert volume: Consider bringing baby headphones if taking a little one into a concert. 

For families gearing up for a day at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, these tips will hopefully serve as a road map for navigating the excitement while keeping young cowboys and cowgirls happy. There’s no wrong way to Rodeo, but with advance planning and a flexible attitude, families can fully enjoy the magic of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. 

Editor’s note: For more information and to plan your visit, see For more on HLSR, see Karen Vine Fuller’s story in this issue on the Rodeo School Art and, for the 21+ crowd, see Dai Huynh’s story in this issue on the Rodeo Wine Garden.

Georgia McQueen

Georgia McQueen ventured to her first Rodeo at three months old.

Family-Friendly Rodeo Highlights

The Houston Rodeo grounds are open daily, Feb. 27-March 17. The opening time differs depending on the day, but the grounds close at midnight. A ticket for the Rodeo grounds is $20 for adults and $10 for kids (ages 3-12). Here are some family-friendly highlights:


The quintessential Houston Rodeo, with rides, games, and food galore! Where else can you get everything deep-fried? 

The Junction

This kid-friendly area, located outside at the east end of NRG Park, has lots of activities for the whole family – exhibits are free unless otherwise noted.

• Fun on the Farm: This free exhibit is run by volunteers and gives kids a chance to experience farm chores such as “milking a cow” (not a real cow), gathering eggs, planting, harvesting crops, and feeding pretend chickens. As you exit the farm, the children get a token to spend on a treat at the General Store. Finally, they pass by “Goat Mountain,” where real goats frolic on a small fenced-in hill. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

• The Junction Carnival: This kid-friendly carnival area opens at 11 a.m. Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m. on weekends, and stays open until midnight.

• Mutton Bustin’: Kids ages 5-6 can try their hand at Mutton Bustin’ inside the Junction. While riding inside NRG Stadium requires advance registration for a chance to participate, The Junction is run on a first come, first served basis. Open from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., with a performance every hour, on the hour. Parents register upon arrival, and the cost is $20 per ride. Riders must not exceed 55 pounds.

• Pig Races: Groups of energetic piglets race every day at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. Watching the race is free.

• Extreme Dogs: Talented pups perform tricks and stunts every day at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. Watching the performance is free.


Located in Hall A of NRG Center, Agventure exhibits are free and open daily from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. 

• We’re Small Y’all Barn: See and touch adorable miniature horses and donkeys and learn more about how their tininess came to be. 

• Petting Zoo: Have a hands-on experience with those furry faces. For $2, visitors can purchase food to feed goats, pigs, lambs, and more. 

• Other Agventure sites include: the honeybee exhibit, birthing center, breed row, fisheries, horticulture exhibit, poultry, rabbits, and pony rides.

Editor’s note: Times, dates, and prices are subject to change – check for updates. Yee-haw, y’all!

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