A Century of History – the National Western Stock Show, Horse Show and Rodeo

By Chantelle Kadala

The first National Western Stock Show was held outside, under circus tents, primarily showing a sturdy breed of western cattle to an even sturdier breed of western cowboy and farmer. Over the past century it has grown into a 16-day extravaganza experienced every January by over 600,000 people and displaying 15,000 animals.

The Beginnings of the National Western Stock Show

In the early years of the 20th century, western stock growers lacked a large market center like the ones you could find back East. In 1906 stockmen from all over the West gathered to show their animals, buy and sell breeding stock and develop a meatpacking center for the West and this is when the National Western Stock Show began.

Bringing high society to the show with the introduction of the horse show and Society Night and allowing entries from all over the US in the first decade of the National Western made it a national event not to be missed. The rodeo was added in 1931 and with the National Western’s ability to combine the high-society types with the hard-working folk, it engineered a combination of events that promoted continued growth that helped the stock show survive the first half of the century through winter storms, the Depression and two World Wars.

It Grows and Grows and Grows

For decades the National Western Stock Show was cramped for space and the Stadium Arena was the only venue for ticketed performances and the hundreds of thousands of people and livestock who visited the show every year until the 1950’S when the Denver Coliseum was built and 500 more stalls were added for rodeo stock and show horses. At this same time, appropriations from the city of Denver, downtown businesses and the state stopped and the National Western was on its own, but with the new stadium it was set up to create a uniquely exciting experience and make more money than ever. It was the biggest and best stock show and people came from all across the nation to buy, sell, watch and enjoy.

By the 1980’s the show had doubled in size from the six-day configuration of 1906 with a uncharted rise in livestock and attendance numbers, and the addition of the Denver Coliseum and Hall of Education. In the last thirty years it’s grown even more with exciting shows and youth programs, different and exotic exhibit animals and free entertainment consistently being added. The Event Center was opened in 1995 and this 240,000 square foot, 5,000 seat, state-of-the-art equine center is at the forefront of the nation’s horse show arenas.

National Western Today

Working as a charitable organization, the National Western Stock Show provides scholarships in agriculture and medicine for practice in rural areas and remains committed to being the premier stock show, rodeo, horse show and event center in the world. With the world’s richest professional rodeo, largest horse show and high tech facilities, the National Western has no problem keeping its commitments.