The Fourth of July is more than a celebration of America’s independence on the Big Island; it’s also a day when Parker Ranch honors its paniolo heritage.
Cowboy culture will be on display morning, as the ranch hosts its 52nd annual rodeo and horse races at its arena in Waimea.
“It is the premier event for Parker Ranch,” said Nahua Guilloz, the ranch’s corporate secretary and senior manager. “It is one of the largest rodeos you’ll find on the Big Island. I think the horse racing brings more people to it.”
It’s the only racing on the big island, but it’s a bit different than horse racing at tracks in other states. Rather than being bred to race, the horses in Friday’s competition are workers first and foremost. The horses are used by 10 area ranches, and their owners put their pride on the line in races at half-mile, quarter-mile and eighth-mile distances as well as a relay race.
“It’s almost like a grudge match,” Guilloz said. “Other cowboys are saying, ‘Hey, my horse is faster than yours. Let’s prove it.’”
Rodeo events will be held between the horse races. Ranches will compete in team roping and ranch mugging events as well as the Hawaii Poo Wai U competition, which is unique to the state.
Guilloz sees the events as a strong tie to Hawaii’s paniolo heritage that can help continue the cowboy tradition for years to come.
“We pride ourselves on being stewards of the land,” she said. “In order to continue to provide the state and islands with food, agriculture is important and ranching is important. This reminds the public that we’re still out there taking care of the land. The Fourth of July is kind of our play day and we invite the public.”
In addition to the horse racing and rodeo events, Parker Ranch has keiki activities such as a petting zoo and pony rides. Food will be available from vendors.