Pana‘ewa Stampede Rodeo on Hawaii island

Paniolo shine during the Pana‘ewa Stampede Rodeo on Hawaii island
By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi, Special to the Star-Advertiser

Killer, Avenger, Stomper, Widow Maker — their names alone are enough to make most people quiver, but not the fearless cowpokes who mount such 2,000-pound bulls for back-wrenching, bone-jarring rides.

“Bulls are fight animals, not flight animals like horses,” said Al Cabral, organizer and arena director of the Pana‘ewa Stampede Rodeo and president of the Hawaii Horse Owners, the equestrian club that puts on the event. “They’ll buck and twist and might even attack riders when they’re on the ground. When you compete in a rodeo, the chance of getting hurt is real.”

Cabral competed in Hawaii island rodeos for a decade and knows all about those risks. Once, while team roping, he pulled his horse to a sudden stop and slammed into the saddle horn, which separated his pelvic bones. He was hospitalized for five days, and the injury contributed to spinal problems that later required surgery.

“But when you’ve been around horses all your life like I have, it’s not something you can easily give up,” Cabral, 71, said. “I don’t compete in rodeos anymore, but my wife and I have three horses and 30 head of cattle at our ranch in the hills above Hilo, and we still enjoy riding on trails and in parades on the Big Island. I also enjoy planning the rodeo because it’s a way of spotlighting paniolo who represent an important part of Hawaii’s history that we must preserve.”


> Where: Pana‘ewa Equestrian Center, 800 Stainback Highway, Hilo
> Dates: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 17 and 18
> Admission: $8 single-day tickets, $25 for a three-day pass through Friday at Coldwell Banker Day-Lum Properties, 2 Kamehameha Ave. in Hilo. Cost is $10 each for single-day tickets online and at the gate. Children 12 and under are free.
> Phone: (808) 937-1004
> Email:
> Website:
> Note: Seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Most vendors accept cash only.

Some 25 cowboys and cowgirls from the mainland and throughout the islands will compete in this year’s 27th annual Pana‘ewa Stampede Rodeo. The Cabrals’ youngest son, Cody, participated for 20 years before turning pro in steer wrestling in 2012. Four years later, he became the first paniolo from Hawaii to earn a coveted spot in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, regarded as the world’s premier rodeo.

“That was a very big deal,” Cabral said. “Since then, more local kids have become interested in steer wrestling, which is rarely done in Hawaii. Cody lives in a horse trailer for 11 months of the year because he competes in 80-plus rodeos across the country. Whenever he’s in Hilo, he teaches steer wrestling to our local youth, and this year, for the first time, we’ve added that to our rodeo to give them an opportunity to show their skills.”

Contestants run the gamut in age, from octogenarians to keiki as young as 2 who vie for top honors in sheep riding. Older kids can compete in calf riding, junior bull riding and dummy roping.

Daring spectators 18 and older can sign up for the Novelty Bull events, which might include the Bull Run. Up to 12 of them stand in the arena as three bulls with paper attached to their necks charge in. Whoever pulls off the paper with “$500” written on it wins the money.

Dangerous, yes, but some greenhorns can’t resist the thrill of stepping into a paniolo’s boots, even for a short time.

“As ranching techniques are modernized in Hawaii, there will be fewer cowboys,” Cabral said. “We worry that one day the only place you’ll learn about them is via pictures and artifacts in a museum. The Pane‘ewa Stampede Rodeo is fun and exciting, but the best thing about it is that it brings family and friends together to help keep the paniolo culture alive.”


> Barrel racing: Horse and rider gallop around three barrels set in a cloverleaf pattern. The goal is to complete the course in the fastest time without knocking over any barrels.

> Bronc riding: The aim of this event is for the rider to stay on a bucking horse for eight seconds (horses are often are bred for their bucking ability). To get a high score, the rider must keep spurring the horse from the shoulders to the back of the saddle. The spurs arent sharp.

> Double mugging: For this event, seen only at Hawaii rodeos, a cowboy on horseback ropes a steer. He then dismounts to help his partner, who has been standing nearby, wrestle it to the ground. The object is to lay the steer on its side and tie any three of its feet together. The steer must stay tied for six seconds.

> Kane-wahine ribbon mugging: A cowboy and a cowgirl partner for this event. One whos on horseback ropes a calf, then jumps off to help the other, whos standing in the arena, pull a ribbon from the calfs tail and remove the rope they used to snare it. They hold hands and run to the finish line (a barrel) with the ribbon and rope.

> Poo Wai U: Cowpokes rope a steer by the horns, pull it to a Y-shaped tree and tie it with a non-choke knot. Only seen in local rodeos, this was developed by paniolo long ago to control wild cattle when they were first caught. Tied to a tree overnight, the animals tired themselves out as they struggled to get free, making them easier to handle when they were herded to the ranch or to a ship at the dock the next day.

> Steer wrestling: The contestant chases a steer on horseback, slides down from his galloping mount when he gets close, grabs the animal by the horns and uses strength, leverage, timing and technique to pull it to the ground.

> Team roping: A header and a heeler mounted on horses make up the team. The header is tasked with roping the head of the steer around the horns, neck or one horn and the nose. Once he does that, he wraps the rope around his saddle horn and maneuvers his horse to turn the steer to the left. The heeler then ropes both of the steers hind legs. This is the only rodeo event where men and women compete together, either in single-gender or mixed-gender teams.

> Tie-down roping: The rider lassos a running calf around the neck, dismounts, runs to the calf and ties three of its legs together as fast as he or she can.

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.

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