Eight Palo Alto College students will forego sleep during a 10-day internship at this year's San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
In return, agriculture Professor Weldon Riggs said each student receives experience to add to résumés and a $1,000 internship funded by the profits from this year's event.
Four students are working the first 10 days and a second set of interns began Thursday and continue through the rodeo's end.
Each student's shift begins at 10 p.m. and, depending on the assignment, can end up to eight hours later.
Daisy Garcia, agriculture and animal science sophomore, and Stephanie Kersey, agriculture education freshman, both work eight-hour shifts in the horse show arrival trailer.
The horse barn is open 24 hours to receive equestrian contestants.
Riggs said the Texas rodeo season overlaps with competitions in other states, so some of the contestants drive long distances to get to the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
"It's our job to show them a smiling face and help them get settled," Garcia said.
Garcia and Kersey greet contestants, inspect horses and match up horse profiles with paperwork on file.
They also verify horses have received a coggins vaccination, which helps prevent the transmission of equine infectious anemia, an often-fatal, blood-borne disease spread by horse flies.
Garcia said they also sell extra bags of bedding, assign a stall for each horse, help prep the stall with pine shavings, and help the owner unload trailers before showing them where to park.
She said the overnight interns fill the roles of five daytime volunteers.
On Feb. 8, an owner with two trailers showed up at midnight; the young women processed 11 horses and prepared stalls for them.
At 1:15 a.m. Tuesday, rancher Matt Shiozawa of Chubbuck, Idaho, arrived to process Grey, Chuck and Alotta, his horses participating in the quarter horse and roping shows the following morning.
The horse barn on-site is a large metal building with 732 stalls and concrete floors.
Garcia said each contestant receives two bags of shavings per stall, which are used to cushion the concrete floor for the horses to sleep on.
Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association contestants are given one to two extra bags of shavings for free. Others pay $8.65 per bag.
"These horses are their livelihood," Garcia said. "It's up to the individual owner on how many bags of shavings they use per stall."
After filling out paperwork and finalizing his tab, Shiozawa followed the students, driving an all-terrain vehicle, to the equestrian barn where they sliced open the bags of shavings to make a bed for his horses.
"Even with the cold, I'm having a great time getting to know people," Kersey said.
Meanwhile, rangeland management freshman Travis Svoboda and mechanical engineering sophomore Andrew Morehous empty trash barrels and sweep horse droppings from the asphalt around stable entrances and walkways.
Svoboda and Morehous, friends since kindergarten, graduated from Floresville High School.
Svoboda said they usually only clean the outer perimeter of the horse stables. They also help clean the stalls if the cleaning crew is overloaded.
During the first two days, they joined 16 community service volunteers to clean 280 stalls.
The first two nights were a bear," Morehous said. "We were here for a good seven to eight hours. The rest has been a piece of cake."
Svoboda said, "I remember finishing one stall and looking up at a whole row of stalls left to go and wondering when it was going to end."
Morehous said the experience has given him a behind-the-scenes view of how the rodeo works while Svoboda said he learned more about career paths and networking with other professionals.
All four students attend morning classes after the overnight shift ends.
Garcia and Kersey said Riggs told them about the opportunity last fall during animal science and livestock evaluation classes.
Svoboda and Morehous discovered the internship through the Lone Star Agriculture Club at Palo Alto College.
This is the first year students will be paid outright by the San Antonio Livestock Exposition instead of receiving a scholarship.
Riggs said the $1,000 internship can be used right away instead of students waiting for fall semester for disbursement.
He said the exposition does not require exclusive use toward education expenses.
Morehous plans to use the funds toward his out-of-district tuition and help off-set fuel expenses.
Riggs, a member of the rodeo's School Tours Committee, said he tries to recruit interns from all majors and educational backgrounds.
While agriculture is preferred, he said previous interns have been nursing and education majors.
He also works with local high school chapters of the Future Farmers of America and 4-H Youth Development Organization.
Members volunteer as tour guides during elementary school field trips through the rodeo grounds.
He said up to 1,800 elementary school children funnel through free exhibits and hands-on activities each day.
Riggs then recruits those high school volunteers to continue their passion for agriculture at Palo Alto College.
Next year's application will be available in October and due by the end of the fall semester.
For more information about next year's application, contact Riggs at 210-601-1605.
The rodeo is still accepting applications for volunteers.
For more information, visit www.sarodeo.com.