Taking the Paniolo Tradition by Stampede
When most people think of Hawaii, cowboys aren’t the first thing to come to mind. Yet the paniolo tradition has been ingrained in local culture since the reign of King Kamehameha III in the early 1800s. On Molokai, Kapualei Ranch is helping to keep the tradition alive through their annual Stampede Rodeo, celebrating its sixth year this weekend.
“[Paniolos are] really a dying breed throughout the whole state,” said Saucie Dudoit, who manages Kapualei with her husband, Goat. “We do ropings to perpetuate the culture and lifestyle of cowboys.”
The Stampede Rodeo draws contestants of all ages from around the state for nine events, including team roping, barrel racing and dummy roping for kids. This year’s competitions begin on Friday, Nov. 10, and continue through Sunday.
All in a Year’s Work
Months of hard work go in to preparing for the big day. Funds must be raised, contestants registered, prizes acquired and much more. The animals themselves take top priority; horses must be trained and conditioned in preparation for the rodeo. And while many onlookers may think of the cattle used in roping events to be mere accessories, they, too, must be carefully trained and cared for.
“Like a runner getting conditioned for a race, you have to get their muscles conditioned to last through the weekend — it’s grueling for them,” Dudoit said of the cattle.
During the roping events, cattle are released one at a time from the holding chute and given a 10-foot “scoreline,” or head start, before the ropers follow on horseback. The cattle are expected to run straight through the arena as they’re being roped, then into a catch pen. Conditioning the cattle includes teaching them the proper route, as well as giving them several practice ropings before the rodeo.
“We teach them how to handle themselves on the rope so they know what’s coming,” said Dudoit. “That way, when we do have the rodeo, they know exactly what’s happening and they won’t be freaked out. We value our cattle a lot.”
For off-island contestants, the cost of participation is high, totaling at least $1,000 in entry fees, shipping their horses, rental cars and accommodations. No one is more aware of the costs than the Dudoit family. When their children were young, Saucie and Goat would pinch pennies to travel around Hawaii to compete in rodeos.
But for contestants in the Stampede Rodeo, the rewards can outweigh the costs if your skills earn you a big win. Kapualei offers cash prizes, four top-of-the-line saddles, buckle trophies for each event and a 2012 Polaris quad for the paniolo with the top points.
“There’s no other roping in the islands that gives the kind of prizes we’re giving,” said Dudoit. “Everybody does it for the love of the sport, but now people are looking for ropings that offer the best bang for the buck and you can’t beat this show. They look for a good payout, and we’re offering that.”
Whether because of the rodeo’s reputation as a good show on Molokai or because of their impressive prizes, the event is drawing record numbers this year. Dudoit said about 70 contestants are already registered and for the first time in the event’s history, every island will be represented.
Most contestants ship their own horses to Molokai for the event, and Kapualei has to prepare to house several trailer-loads of animals. This year, more visiting competitors will be able to attend the rodeo in part thanks to Young Brothers barge company, which offered a special discount for transporting the horses.
The Dudoits have managed Kapualei Ranch for the past six years. Owned by James “Kimo” Austin of Oahu, the ranch has been passed down in his family for generations.
Dudoit said Austin funds the prizes out of his own pocket to keep the tradition alive. “He’s very generous to make sure it goes on every year to give back to the paniolo lifestyle,” she added.
This year, in addition to the two-day Stampede Rodeo which begins Saturday morning, Kapualei is hosting a special memorial event on Friday for Cami Naehu, Dudoit’s niece who passed away earlier this year. Called Cowboys and Angels Rodeo, the event is especially for women and begins Nov. 9 at 4 p.m. and includes goat-tying, pole bending, barrel racing, and team roping for women, with male roping partners in the mixed roping events.
“Cami always brightened everyone’s life,” said Dudoit. “We miss her a lot and we wanted to do something to remember her.”
Saturday’s events will begin at 10 a.m. and continue until about 4 p.m., with live country music and a fundraiser dinner to follow. The Stampede will continue Sunday at 10 a.m., with lucky number drawings and the awards ceremony afterward. For more information, visit the Kapualei Ranch Facebook page.