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60th Cracker Day Rodeo lassos success again

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jan 20, 2021

Brilee Cochran runs off her horse to tie a goal during the Cowgirl Trifecta at the Cracker Day Rodeo on Sunday at the Lee County Posse Arena. CHUCK BALLARO


Like organizers of every other big event, the County Posse Arena crew was wondering if the 60th Cracker Day Rodeo would even be held because of the COVID pandemic.

It was held, and for three days, it was a rousing success as thousands attended one of the oldest events in Lee County to celebrate the ranch culture that represents the heart of the state.

Al Curry, of the Sweet Cypress Ranch who has served as the rodeo’s announcer for 26 years, said Florida isn’t all palm trees and Disney World.

“It’s a recreation of our cracker heritage. We celebrate the cowboys and cowgirls that make up a part of Florida that people don’t know about,” Curry said. “Florida is one of the top feeder-calve producing states in the country.”

The event also serves as the biggest fundraiser for the Lee County Posse Arena, which gives local youth a place to learn and love to ride.

The weekend kicked off with the youth rodeo Friday night and two adult performances on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, all three of which had strong attendance.

“We have a general monthly cost for electric, maintenance, and an improvement project,” said Bobbi Harrison of the arena, who added that arena is working to get a high school rodeo for later in the year.

The rodeo had many of the same events you would typically see, such as bull riding, calf roping and barrel racing. There were also some more unusual events such as the buddy pick-up and, for the first time, a cowgirl trifecta, where the rider has to breakaway rope a calf, complete a barrel pattern, then get off and tie a goat.

Brilee Cochran, 15, of LaBelle, has competed in all three events in high school rodeo, just not at the same time.

“It was fun. It was nerve wracking at first, but once I mounted the horse, I felt good,” Cochran said. “I go to rodeos in Oklahoma and Texas and do all that.”

The crowd at the arena on Sunday, some of whom are novices, said they enjoyed themselves.

“It’s pure Americana. People who love our country and love each other. There’s no better way to spend a Sunday,” said Chrissi Brignola, who came from Naples. “The bull riding is the most exciting, but I loved the mutton busting the most.”

Bridgette Cochran, Brilee’s mom, said rodeos are a great family event to come to.

“It’s a time to enjoy and not worry about everything with COVID and just have fun,” Cochran said. “I liked the cowgirl trifecta because it was such a new event. I was fun to watch.”

Anna Stilson, 20, from LaBelle, was a member of the Lee County Posse for years and said the rodeo is an educational experience on the other side of Florida.

“We learn how to take care of animals because that’s what the ranchers did when they came here,” Stilson said. “They did it, now we do it and now we use them to compete and take care of the animals.”