Spanning almost all of the fall season, the American Royal includes more than 40 activities encompassing everything from debutante balls to barrel racing. Plus, with 110-plus years of history, it’s quite reasonable to think that the whole event can be a bit intimidating or overwhelming for first timers. Even those who think they know the American Royal may not know everything about this classic Kansas City icon, an event that defines Kansas City perhaps more than any other in our city.

Here’s your go-to guide to the American Royal:

The World Series of Barbecue

American Royal World Series of Barbecue

In 2017, the World Series of Barbecue event returns to Kansas Speedway, and will be held on Labor Day Weekend. Regardless of its location or date, this is the main attraction for carnivores and barbecue lovers. With 600-plus teams competing and a regularly estimated 50,000 people in attendance, this three-day event is no question a showcase of some of the world’s best barbecue—and, on Saturday, some great family-friendly fun.

Dates: Aug. 31 - Sept. 3

Cerner Cowtown Family FunFest

Cerner Cowtown Family Fun Fest

Head out to the American Royal World Series of Barbecue on Saturday for the Cerner Cowtown Family FunFest, where everyone from young to old is welcome. Single day tickets are available and give visitors access to tons of activities for the whole family, plus BMX performances and country star Tyler Farr headlining on the Budweiser Stage.

Date: Sept. 2

The Livestock Show

American Royal Livestock Show
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How long has it been, if ever, since you’ve come face-to-face with the source of your favorite burnt ends or pulled pork sandwich? The livestock show is your opportunity to walk through the barn-like stalls and see the goats, lambs, hogs and cattle up close and learn from the owners about their care and needs. Spread out over two weekends, the livestock show truly gets to the heritage of the American Royal and agriculture.

The Horse Shows

American Royal Horse Show
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There are five areas of competition in the horse shows: Arabian, Cutting, Hunter/Jumper, Quarter Horse and Saddle Horse. So, where to start?

  • If your horse knowledge is limited, but you want to see the biggest and the best decked out in all of their finery, attend the Arabian show.
  • If you want to see an authentic display of how horses are used today by working cowboys, don’t miss the Cutting events.
  • If you’re interested in witnessing Olympic-caliber riding first-hand, mark your calendar for the Hunter/Jumper events.
  • Quarter horses are the most versatile of all breeds, which means these events include a number of activities that demonstrate the intellect and agility of these animals.
  • Similarly, Saddle horses are both agile and graceful, putting on one of the most visually pleasing exhibits in all of the horse show events.

The Rodeo

American Royal Rodeo

Mechanical bulls and their riders step aside—this is the real deal. With large prize packages, this Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event attracts the best cowboys in the world. Not to mention the world’s best rodeo clowns, who undoubtedly have an even more dangerous and serious job. Be sure not to miss this one-of-a-kind showcase of talent and ability.


For a full listing of all the American Royal events, visit

Historic Roots

Stockyards in the West Bottoms
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The Kansas City Stockyards, originally located in the West Bottoms before closing permanently in the 1990s, was once the world’s largest collecting point of cattle, hogs and sheep. Along with the livestock came the nation’s leading figures in the horse and cattle industry, individuals who brought both money and influence to the region. By 1899, boastful competition amongst livestock owners had become such a pastime that a cattle show was founded in order to award cash prizes and bragging rights to the biggest and best animals. The show grew and developed and was eventually named the American Royal—a nod to the established royal livestock shows popular in Great Britain.

The Modern American Royal

Today, most people assume that the American Royal is all about livestock shows, rodeos and the world’s largest barbecue competition. It’s all that and more, but the underlying purpose is much more altruistic. Above all else, the goal of the American Royal is to educate the public about the role of agriculture in the 21st Century. In 2010, the non-profit organization awarded more than $1.7 million in the form of scholarships, prize monies and other educational grants.

Fundamental in its role of education is the American Royal Museum—located in the West Bottoms—which tells the history of the Kansas City Stockyards and the global reaches of Midwestern agriculture. For kids, the fun part is stepping on livestock scales to see if they weigh more than a hog. Most adults avoid that activity, but instead appreciate learning what judges look for in awarding some of the big prizes in the livestock and horse shows.

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