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I had never seen anything like it. These were no mechanical bulls. I had come to Billy Bob’s – “the World’s Largest Honkey Tonk” – to take in a concert by an up-and-coming country artist and, before the show got underway, took a little time to stroll around and explore this vast place. After walking past the long bar and the swirling two-steppers, I – incredulous at the sight – found an indoor bull riding ring, right inside this place, which is ostensibly a nightclub but clearly offers more than music and dancing. Settling onto the metal bleachers, I watched a real rodeo, with bulls – their riders hanging on for dear life – bucking out of a chute just across the way, and cowboys and cowgirls in the stands around me, eagerly cheering on their favourites. You’d never find that at a nightclub in New York.

In Texas, everything – from the ubiquitous pickup trucks and belt buckles to the ranch roads stretching far to the horizon – seems to have been touched by the true west. It’s a state of wide-open spaces where a cowboy hat never seems out of place, whether on the farm or in a big city of several million, and where a pair of Wranglers can be seen far more often than a finely pressed suit.


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And perhaps the best way to experience the Texas west is to immerse yourself in it at a dude ranch, where you can get on the back of a horse and live out your cowboy or cowgirl dreams. For example, the Mayan Dude Ranch near Bandera – the so-called Cowboy Capital of the World – allows you to roam the range on its 103-hectare property, starting the day with a trail ride to a breakfast cookout, and finishing it with Texas barbecue ribs and brisket, as well as live music and country dancing. And at the family friendly Flying L Guest Ranch, trail rides along a riverbed and a junior cowboy Olympics competition are paired with activities that will please families looking for more traditional recreation options alongside their western experiences, with a waterpark, 18-hole golf course, putt-putt, and arts and crafts programs.


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Or if you prefer to leave the cowboy antics to the professionals, make sure to take in a rodeo, the most famous of which is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. A massive event that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, the Houston Rodeo boasts a full slate of events, from bucking bulls and broncos to tie-down roping, steer wrestling and a kid-friendly calf scramble. There’s also a vast array of food competitions, agricultural exhibits and A-list concerts and hands-on activities. But if you want something a little more local, head to a small town event like the Taylor Annual Rodeo. Known as an “open rodeo,” this event, held every year since 1950, encourages crowd participation in events like steer saddling, and the riders and ropers in the ring are rarely professionals, but rather ranchers and residents from the area – prizes are small, and are sometimes limited to bragging rights.