MERCEDES — The smell of wet dirt and cattle filled the rodeo arena as competitors stood by their horses before the morning competition. Competitors were seen petting, grooming and talking to the horses before facing the judges. That was the scene on Monday morning at the 70th Annual Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show in Mercedes.

In a week where school is out for Spring Break and students are relaxing, going on vacation or heading to the beach — many use this time off to compete at the Open/Youth Horse Show at the Livestock show.

Ten-year-old Mikaela Pena who attends Freddy Gonzalez Elementary, got to compete for the first time that morning. She competed in the 13 and under gilding halter category where the judges are only judging the horse. Her horse Kwanzza is five-years-old. Other competitions include the showmanship and western pleasure riding.

Mikaela’s mother, Ruth Pena said her daughter loves horses and got her a trainer at Equestrian Country Club Stables located on McColl and Schunior.

“I was very scared about letting her ride, but my husband loved it because he is a horseman,” she said about letting her daughter ride a horse. “But now that I see her working with the horses and see that she’s come a long way, she is so dedicated and that is so rewarding to just see her. She deserves it.”

Pena said competitions like these are important but it is not always about placing and getting awards, she said it’s about building confidence and meeting people.

“It is amazing how much she has developed and to see them both, the horse and her work together, it is awesome,” she said.

Winners of each competition win scholarship money and riding saddles.

Keyle Ricks, daughter of Equestrian Country Club owner, has been riding horses since the age of three and knows competitions like these are important. She also knows to expect the unexpected. That morning she found herself competing with an alternative horse because her show horse, “I talk quiet sweet,” nicknamed “Piper” fell sick the night before.

“She was really worried about Piper and upset that it had happened,” Ricks said. “It takes team work between the horse and the student to work together,” she said.

Equestrian Country Club has over 30 students and six students competed that day. The Rio Grande Livestock show will run until March 22 in Mercedes.