The voice booms over the loudspeaker, churning up the excitement of the audience: “Rider up!” For rodeo contestants and spectators on the Big Island, that voice most likely belongs to Richard Kaniho, descendant of Willie Kaniho, Sr., a real old-time paniolo who worked cattle at Parker Ranch for 56 years.
Kaniho’s own rodeo experiences range from riding the semi-professional rodeo circuit on the mainland, to directing the Hawaii High School Rodeo Association, and breeding bucking bulls here on the Big Island.
“I like to stay connected,” said Kaniho.
“I love to listen to him when he’s announcing at the rodeo,” said Nahua Guilloz, senior manager at Parker Ranch. “He not only has a love of ranching and of the rodeo, but also knows all the people. He makes us feel connected to the local ranching families, and tells their stories.”
This will be Kaniho’s fourth year announcing the Parker Ranch Fourth of July Horse Races and Rodeo, and he feels that rodeos in Hawaii stack up well compared to similar events on the mainland.
“We do a pretty good job here. We have decent stock to compete on,” he said.
The “stock” that Kaniho is thinking about includes bucking bulls, used in one of the most dangerous and exciting events at a rodeo — bull riding. In this rodeo event, riders sit bareback atop a full-grown bull, hanging on only by a thin rope. Riders need to stay on for a full nine seconds while the animal lunges, spins, bucks and twists. The ride is rated by judges, with points given to both the bull and the rider. The most points are scored by a vigorously bucking, athletic bull ridden by a balanced and agile rider. Because the bulls are rated separately from the riders, the high scoring animals become celebrities in their own right.
Kaniho has been breeding bucking bulls here on the Big Island, descended from some of those celebrity bulls.
“I just put three animals on the plane to Texas last month,” he said.
Unfortunately for Kaniho, his sons are not into the rodeo scene. But rather than forcing the next generation to participate in something he loves, he instead is supporting his kids in what they love — baseball. Kaniho has stepped up to revitalize the local Little League, and volunteers as umpire at their games.
According to Guilloz, Kaniho spreads aloha within the Waimea community and beyond by bringing people together. Recently, he became the construction manager at Habitat for Humanity, and organized visiting groups to help build homes here.
He not only gives his time to the Fourth of July rodeo and the Labor Day rodeos at Parker Ranch, but has also donated his time as the auctioneer for the local 4H livestock auction.
“He always says “yes” no matter what he is asked to do. He is able to communicate the love of the land, and is a great ambassador for the community,” said Guilloz.
A special talent unrelated to rodeo came to light last year when at the Labor Day rodeo, the schedule national anthem singer did not show up. Without much ado, Kaniho stepped up to the mic and let loose his rich voice in both the anthem and Hawaii Pono I.
“He has big aloha, and we appreciate all he does for the community,” said Guilloz.