Step right up and guess how many stuffed prizes are handed out at the Houston Rodeo carnival

From the sparkly unicorns to the tufted pineapples and pastel piglets, stuffed animals are as much a feature of RodeoHouston as corndogs and cowboy boots. They gaze, googly-eyed, from every fixture, imploring carnival-goers to take them home.

Half a million stuffed animals will be given out as prizes by the time the carnival concludes Sunday, organizers said, an enormous haul that was trucked in by 100 semi-trailers at the beginning of the three-week extravaganza. As many as 45,000 prizes were claimed on a single day during Houston’s spring break week, the rodeo’s busiest period.

On Friday, Dani Santana, 19, took a seat at Water Gun Fun, shooting a stream of water at a target that propelled a plastic rabbit to the booth’s ceiling. She laid out 24 tickets — about $12 — and won on her second attempt. The teen pointed at a velvet blobfish with exaggerated pink lips.

“One ugly fish coming up,” a carnival worker yelled out, pulling the plush animal from its hook.

Clutching her new companion, Santana said was glad she succeeded early in the night.

“Once they accumulate, the tickets are worth more than the prize,” she said, before wandering off to another game.

For the stuffed animals, the carnival is the culmination of a long journey. Organizers began ordering this year’s prizes from Chinese and American distributors about 10 months ago to avoid supply chain hold-ups, said Chris Lopez, vice president of RCS Fun, the company that puts on the rodeo.

To further reduce shipping hassles, some of the animals arrived as empty skins and polyester filling, and were assembled on site in what Lopez called “a Build-A-Bear-type operation.”

The most popular prizes are “squishmallow” pillows and old-fashioned teddy bears, he said.

The carnival’s labyrinthine walkways hosted a parade of cuddly critters Friday evening, as children passed holding everything from green-hooved cows to silver-spouted whales and iridescent mushrooms.

Jayden Vo, 11, wore a giant husky slung over his small shoulders. The stuffed dog was nearly as tall as its owner, a fact that seemed to delight the boy more than his parents. They worried the husky, which Jayden won by tossing a red plastic ring around the mouth of a glass Coke bottle at the Ring-O-Bottle booth, would be an encumbrance at Marshmallow’s show later that evening.

“We’ll have to find a seat for it at the concert,” said Jayden’s father, Davis Vo.

Like so many other parents, Vo, 37, spent a small fortune buying tickets for the carnival. The Houston father of two said he and his extended family shelled out about $1,000 on pre-sale tickets.

By the end of the night, the carnival booths were looking empty, with large gaps where the now-claimed stuffed animals had once hung. At midnight, workers would begin restocking the booths with new animals from the warehouse.

Katy resident Kaitlyn Pham, 12, held a small menagerie of hard-won stuffed animals in her arms. She’d spent about $75 to win them, and planned to use her remaining tickets on carnival rides. She proclaimed herself satisfied with her haul — with a small caveat.

“The big ones should be easier to win,” Pham said.

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