Hooked on Horns

SEASONED VETERAN: Shawn Cummins is in her 16th year volunteering at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, where she will serve as a contestant supervisor for the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest.

For Bar-B-Que committee member Shawn Cummins, the Houston Rodeo is a way of life.

By Jenny Block

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a massive endeavor that runs on the power of more than 33,000 volunteers. For the last two years, this figure has included a group that put on an LGBTQ-themed event called Out at the Rodeo.

Unfortunately, as of press time, Out at the Rodeo was not scheduled to take place in 2018. But that doesn’t mean the LGBTQ community will not be involved in the world’s largest rodeo, which runs February 27 through March 18.

One of those community members is 45-year-old Shawn Cummins. Born and raised in Houston, Cummins is a die-hard rodeo volunteer of 16 years. The only thing she loves more is her family. And, this June, Cummins will marry her partner of twelve-and-a-half years, Darla Dean.

Together, Cummins and Dean have three children—a 13-year-old son, Kody, and two daughters, 21-year-old Shelbi and 23-year-old Rylee. A stay-at-home mom who lives on Galveston Bay, Cummins lives for spending time on the water, traveling, and—of course—volunteering every year at the rodeo.

“I make a joke about being born on the parking lot,” she says. “But I have been going to the rodeo since I was a little girl. There is no other organization I would rather volunteer with.”

Cummins currently serves as a contestant supervisor for the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, which boasted 226,369 guests in 2017.

“My job is to supervise the group of cook teams I am given,” she says. “I absolutely love my job, because I get to meet awesome people each year, eat great food, and have a lot of fun.”

For Cummins, the rodeo is a family affair. She says her mother has been involved in the event for almost 40 years, serving on various committees and as an auction buyer of swine and steer. Cummins’ fondest rodeo memories are from her childhood, when the event was held in the Astrodome. She says she got to meet several entertainers in person, including Reba McEntire.

“I [also] remember playing in the area where they kept the stage before they moved it into the center for the concert. George Strait, his wife, and their son were hanging out by the stage watching the rodeo, and I got to meet them and play with their son,” she says.

Naturally, Cummins says, her children have also enjoyed the rodeo.

“What kid doesn’t love a carnival?” she says. “They always loved going through Agventure, then sitting and watching the rodeo. I always made sure to get to our seats early so they could get the full experience, from the grand entry to the final song of the concert. Darla loves it as well. She comes out and helps during Bar-B-Que and loves judging the Dutch Oven Dessert contest.”

Last year, 2.6 million people attended the three-week-long extravaganza of performances, rides, games, exhibits, auctions, shopping, competitions, and more.

This year, Garth Brooks will open and close the rodeo. Other scheduled performers include Alessia Cara, Kelsea Ballerini, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Blake Shelton, Leon Bridges, Rascal Flatts, and the Zac Brown Band.

The event has a massive economic impact on the City of Houston, creating 7,265 full-time-equivalent jobs and increasing tax revenue by more than $27 million.

But it also has an incredible charitable impact. Since 1932, when the rodeo began, it has committed more than $450 million to Texas youth. As we speak, more than 2,000 students are on scholarships at Texas colleges and universities, thanks to the rodeo.

“There is something for everyone, from the carnival to the food to the bull-riding to the concerts,” Cummins says. “And, it benefits the youth of Texas. We are one big happy family, and we love helping kids go to college. Join us. We would love to have you.”

What: Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
When: February 27–March 18
Where: NRG Park, 1 NRG Park

This article appears in the February 2018 edition of OutSmart Magazine. 


Jenny Block

Jenny Block is a frequent contributor to a number of high-profile publications from New York Times to Huffington Post to Playboy and is the author of four books, including “Be That Unicorn: Find your Magic. Live your Truth. Share your Shine." She has appeared on a variety of television and radio programs from Nightline to BBC Radio to Great Day Houston and has performed and spoken at bookstores, events, conferences, and resorts in the US and Mexico, as well as on Holland America Cruise ships.
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