Rodeo queens and clowns, vintage farm tractors, cowpokes, horses and longhorn steers strolled, rolled, and rode down 17th Street Thursday to kick off the 107th National Western Stock Show & Rodeo.

Holly Farmer, 45, of Denver, brought 9-year-old Avery and 7-year-old Daniel downtown to see the spectacle. The Farmer children attend Graland Country Day School.

"We are so excited," Farmer said. "Last year we came and we were a little late and we missed the longhorns. Today we came and we are going to be very excited."

Avery was especially anxious to see the steers. "I like their horns."

Elbert County rodeo royalty Ashley Baller, 16, and Ashley Gerczynski, 12, rode at the head of the parade in a red stage coach.

"I think just being in the parade is very exciting," said Gerczynski, whose official title is Elbert County Princess.

To win the Elbert County Queen title Baller had to give a speech, display her horsemanship and demonstrate other abilities. "It's pretty difficult, but if you know your stuff it is not too bad."

The crowd lined 17th Street for the length of the 14 block parade, which began at Union Station.

Darnae Essex, 33, of Golden, arrived at Wazee and 17th Streets at 11 a.m. and waited patiently for the march to begin at noon. It was the first time she has been to the parade.

"I always get stuck at work," she said.

Essex once showed quarter horses. "This kind of takes me back."

The show officially opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 27 at the National Western Complex at Interstate 70 and Brighton Boulevard.

More than 15,000 head of horses, cattle, sheep, swine, goats, llamas, alpacas, bison, yak, poultry and rabbits will make the grounds home during the show.

Overall attendance in 2012 was 636,663. The attendance record was set during the stock show's 100th anniversary in 2006 at 726,972.

Tom McGhee: 303-954-1671, tmcghee@denverpost.com or twitter.com/dpmcghee