Grit and Glory: Rodeo Night at The Alisal Guest Ranch (in Photos)

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a woman wrangler on horseback digs deep, hooves and dirt flying, in barrel race at rodeoRodeo Night at the Alisal is a summer tradition that dates back decades–to the  1940s in fact. Once a week, guests of the Solvang, California, guest ranch who opt in for the special BBQ dinner-inclusive event can mosey back through the stables to where the music plays, the cold drinks are poured (and snow cones are scooped for the kids), and settle into a spot on the bleachers to get ready for the show.

Rodeo Night at the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort

Drill Team Riders

drill team riders on horseback with American Flag at the Alisal Ranch

My daughters were thrilled to be included in the inaugural Alisal Drill Team horseback riding performance that kicked of the rodeo night during our stay (that’s my middle kid in the black shirt). On Tuesday, interested guests 12 years and older attend a 1-hour lesson with the group to learn the choreographed riding pattern in preparation for the Wednesday night event. But while fairly tame and certainly patriotic with the Star Spangled Banner conclusion to the drill team performance, all heck was moments from breaking loose when the first team ropers arrived.


Team Roping

Once the rodeo competitions are underway, you may spot familiar faces of the very wranglers who led you on your horseback ride or gave your child riding lessons earlier that day, and you may even recognize some fellow ranch guests blazing past in a barrel race or team sorting event (the ranch offers lessons and hands-on experience in ranching skills and rodeo activities for those interested). In this first image, wrangler Meghan–who led me on an advanced ride a day earlier–shows consummate coolness as she ropes a calf’s hind leg.

team ropers, female and male, in action shot at rodeo

male wrangler or cowboy prepares to lasso a calf in team roping event at rodeo

Rider ropes a calf in team riding event at rodeo


Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is one of the most-loved equestrian events to watch in the western arena. And when the wranglers of the Alisal saddle up for the competition, they do not disappoint. Pictured below, The Alisal’s own wranglers Kat, Jill, and Beth in action at the weekly rodeo.

woman barrel racing on white horse, lunging in air

Head wrangler Jill Rivoli barrel races at the Alisal Guest Ranch

rider galloping on horseback in silhouette


Team Sorting

As a working 10,000-acre cattle ranch, team driving and sorting is a necessary skill for wranglers at The Alisal. In the team sorting event, wranglers must pick three cattle from the crowd and drive them–and only them–to the opposite side of the arena. women onhorseback compete in team sorting event at rodeosilhouette of cowboy wrangler with three cattle at sunsetNot only is a prize given to the fastest team of the night, but in another Alisal tradition, the team with the fastest time of the entire summer wins a commemorative belt buckle. Worth playing for? Ranch guests considered intermediate and advanced riders can join in a team sorting skills class during their stays, and some may even participate alongside seasoned wranglers as the weekly rodeo draws to its dramatic close.

The Alisal Guest Ranch’s weekly rodeo is followed immediately by a grand outdoor BBQ buffet dinner with live music and dancing. The popular event often sells out, so make your family’s reservations in advance of your stay if possible.

Find out more:

To find out more about The Alisal’s horseback riding opportunities, be sure to read my feature: A Family Horseback Riding Vacation at The Alisal. And if you liked the photos in this feature, don’t miss my latest additions in my “American West” photo gallery.

Visit The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort online:

Full disclosure: My sister-in-law is The Alisal’s first female head wrangler in history(!), and we were given friends & family rates and discounts on many activities, though without the promise of positive (or any) review. As always, any opinions expressed here remain my own. More legal and editorial disclosure information here.

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