HOUSTON, JULY 8 -- Whatever the accent, le rodeo, il rodeo or just plain old rodeo, it ripped, bucked and snorted out of the chutes deep in the heart of George Bush's Texas tonight, launching what some might call the fun side of the 16th annual economic summit.

Bush, four of his summit partners and a ride-'em-cowboy screaming, cheering crowd of several thousand at Houston's AstroArena watched a cram course in rodeoing and a traveling version of the Grand Ole Opry.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and European Community Commission President Jacques Delors looked a little baffled at times by all the roping, racing and kicking going on out there in the dirt-covered arena. And the Grand Ole Opry crowd had all the Texans hollering for more, even if they didn't have the summiteers waving their Stetsons with them.

It was only the second time in Opry history that its performers left their Nashville base to take their show on the road, ranking the AstroArena event with the 1988 Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa. Those making this trip included Minnie Pearl, Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe and the Gatlin Brothers, Roy Acuff and Charley Pride.

Bush, who later called it "an unforgettable Texas evening," seemed right at home, slouched down in his chair most of the time with his spiffy Rocky Carroll cowboy boots for all the world to see. They were special summit boots given to (though not necessarily worn by) all of the leaders, decorated with their national flags and a map of the Lone Star State.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti will get their boots even though they skipped the party. Both had a higher priority -- soccer -- and remained in Rome to watch West Germany's victorious World Cup final match against Argentina. French President Francois Mitterrand is not scheduled to arrive until Monday.

Next to Bush at the arena was a ramrod-straight, perfectly turned out Margaret Thatcher wearing high-heeled spectator pumps, in which she had earlier stepped carefully through smelly livestock pens. Thatcher attentively leaned forward at times when a cowhand hit the dust. Her husband, Denis, tieless like all of the other men in the party, lounged at the end of the row, occasionally applauding.

For her part, First Lady Barbara Bush wore a blue-and-white checked designer version of a cowgirl's gingham dress with a red belt, and multi-stranded pearls at her neck. Delors wore a Grand Ole Opry jacket of white satin with blue trim and an Opry logo on the back. Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila, who wore a blue denim blouse and ankle-length denim skirt, parked their ten-gallon hats at the door. Kaifu, who flamboyantly waved a Stetson in the air when he walked in but then settled back for less demonstrative gestures, relied on his interpreter for the finer points of cowboy talk.

Before they entered the arena, the summit partners were treated to a barbecue supper, and some of them tossed horseshoes for a spell. Bush started it off and missed on his first throw; Denis Thatcher tried next but he also missed. Next up was West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who also missed. Changing sides by then, it was Bush and Kaifu's turn to miss. But they didn't miss some lights buried under wood chips at the end of the pit, touching off fizzing and flaring to add to the excitement.

A few tries later Bush hit two ringers in a row, much to the relief of the photographers, and he obligingly held up his arms in victory, then stepped back so his guests could resume their lackluster performances.

Big waves and lusty cheers erupted for Bush and the First Lady when they finally entered the arena after the barbecue, around 6:30 p.m., as an announcer said, "Mr. President, welcome home."

In the center of the arena was a 22-foot-high red, white and blue cowboy boot, in which cowgirl Suzy Mills and her horse had waited for an hour. Mills finally galloped out of her Trojan boot dressed in red, white and blue sequins and waving an American flag, and was joined by other cowgirls waving flags of the six other summit nations.

Protected by a bulletproof glass partition, the summiteers watched as some of Texas's best cowboys were bucked on the backs of broncos and longhorn bulls.

There were rope tricks, trick riders and even races between two armadillos whose handlers said the animals had attended Bush's inauguration in Washington in 1989.

The Bushes and the Thatchers had started the day taking communion in a High Church service at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, where Bush once was a vestryman. Others in the group were Secretary of State James Baker, his wife, Susan, and their daughter Mary Bonner, and Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady and his wife, Kitty.

Back at his hotel later, Bush changed into an official economic summit T-shirt and shorts to jog with Chief of Protocol Joseph V. Reed. The minute he got out of his car at a popular jogging path in Memorial Park, about 30 other joggers fell in with them and kept pace for almost a half-hour despite the wilting Texas heat.

"Houston's hot," yelled a reporter in a double-entendre deliberately selected by summit planners to point up the city's business rather than its climatic potential.

"No, it's not bad yet, it's not bad," replied Bush, apparently missing the point. "It's going good."

And as is often his routine on these outings, Bush didn't quit after his jog. He also showed up at a favorite athletic club where he and Canada's Mulroney shot baskets for a while.

Saturday night, Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher, a Houston resident, invited his Japanese counterpart, the usually staid Minister of Trade and Industry Kabun Muto, to a Tex-Mex dinner at the funky Cadillac Bar, where the waitresses wear holsters carrying bottles of tequila.

Muto showed up in a Western-style suit with a string tie and a silver and gold belt buckle that said "Texas." Georgette Mosbacher wore a denim dress with a silver and turquoise necklace. Mosbacher himself forgot his jeans; he had to borrow a pair from an aide.

The guests for the party of 14 included the European Community's trade and foreign minister, Frans Andriessen; Transportation Secretary Sam Skinner; Fred Malek, head of the summit preparations for Bush; and some prominent Houstonians.

All the guests were given straw cowboy hats and checkered bandannas for the dinner.

Also Saturday night, Houston news organizations put on one of the most elaborate progressive dinners in history here, hosting the international press corps assembled for the three-day summit.

As guests assembled for the bus ride from downtown Houston to the four museums that were the sites of the affair, they were treated to free champagne, a mariachi band and Mexican folk dancing. A couple in Western garb sat atop a Brahman bull and a Texas longhorn, the latter's horns tipped with small gold balls. Roller skaters in tails and black leotards mingled with the guests, as did a number of people carrying tropical birds.

Staff writers Stuart Auerbach and Dan Balz also contributed to this report.