'We Can't Live in Fear': Two Weeks After Shooting, Gilroy Celebrates Its Annual Rodeo

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Contestants at the Gilroy Rodeo line up on their horses for their turn to compete.  (Sonja Hutson/KQED)

Organizers of the Gilroy Rodeo have roughly doubled the security at this weekend’s event after a gunman killed three people at the Gilroy Garlic Festival two weeks ago

Many attendees felt safe because of the extra security, so they could focus on the rodeo.  

Jim Hosse was one of them. He's a self described cowboy and lives in Gilroy. Ever since he was 12, he’s been working with cattle or making saddles. He considers the annual rodeo a kind of homecoming.

"There's guys here that I haven't seen in 10 years... and you just kind of pick up where you left off," explained Hosse.

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Hosse competed in a few events Saturday morning, and by afternoon he was sitting on the bleachers above the rodeo arena, watching competitors in a small pen round up cattle. His long handlebar mustache hangs about 4 inches below his chin, blowing in the wind. 

"And that's just the sense of community that most of these are," Hosse said. "We don't live in town. We're all we got."

But just what “town” is has changed a lot. Peter Verbica grew up on a cattle ranch just outside San Jose and read some “cowboy poetry” about it at the rodeo. 

"Before city folk came in like wrestlers and bought up all the land, before they ripped up this history under our plow with mediocrity," he read from his book "Hard-Won Cowboy Wisdom" in front of a stage surrounded by barrels of hay.

Verbica worked at the ranch during the summer, loading hay and branding cattle.

"It taught me a great work ethic," he said.

But Verbica didn't become a full-time professional cowboy. He went to college and now works as a certified financial planner. But he still finds ways to enjoy a cowboy lifestyle.

"I still have some interests in a couple of ranches, so I love sneaking out and visiting them especially with my daughters and spouse," Verbica said. "I love going out and horseback riding with them and the cattle when they're grazing."

The Gilroy Rodeo's roots trace back to 1929. (Sonja Hutson/KQED)

While the focus of the Gilroy Rodeo was largely on cowboys and cowgirls, there were still reminders of the Garlic Festival shooting. Several people, including shooting survivor Rachel Orosco, donned t-shirts that read “Gilroy Strong.” 

"Gilroy is my hometown," Orosco said. "I'm proud to be part of Gilroy. And I'm happy to see a lot of people out here and not staying at home.  We can't live in fear."