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Thousands attend Posse for Cracker Day weekend

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jan 31, 2023

Brilee Cochran turns a barrel in the cowgirl trifecta event at the 62nd annual Cracker Day Rodeo at the Lee County Posse Arena on Sunday. CHUCK BALLARO

It was a tale of two Cracker Day Rodeos at the Lee County Posse Arena this past weekend at the Lee County Posse Arena, with the first night being chilly and the Sunday performance being warm and sunny.

Warm or cold, the competition at the 62nd Cracker Day Rodeo was hot, with thousands coming throughout the weekend to see cowboys and cowgirls rope and ride.

The rodeo, which serves as the biggest fundraiser for the non-profit organization that is the arena, is a tribute to the Florida ranchers who moved their cattle throughout the state.

“We survived Ian and we’re bouncing back. We are elated people were showing up this weekend. It has been amazing,” said Bobbi Harrison, Lee County Posse Arena spokesperson. “Saturday, we were packed to the gills and everybody had a great time.”

The youth rodeo was held Friday night under chilly conditions. Saturday’s rodeo featured some of the best talent in the country, including legendary barrel racer Fallon Taylor.

Caleb Butler holds on during the bull riding event at the 62nd annual Cracker Day Rodeo at the Lee County Posse Arena on Sunday. CHUCK BALLARO

Sunday’s rodeo, which didn’t have the bucking broncs Saturday’s rodeo had and wasn’t quite as packed as Saturday, still featured some fun events such as the cowgirl trifecta and the buddy pick-up, which lived up to its reputations as the wildest event at the rodeo.

Brilee Cochran, a high school rodeo competitor from Labelle who competed in barrels, breakaway roping and the trifecta, said the latter event gives cowgirls the ability to show they can compete all-around.

“I came here for the money. I’m pretty good at goat-tying and barrel racing. My breakaway roping needs some work,” Cochran said. “I like how the rodeo community comes together like a family and competing not against everyone else but against yourself.”

Caleb Thomason, who won the bull riding Sunday, said he had studied the bull he rode and wanted his chance at him.

“A good friend of mine who passed away wanted me to do it. I just fell in love with the sport,” Thomason said. “It’s not about the adrenaline. It seems like more of a job now.”

Abraham Pickering busts a mutton at the 62nd annual Cracker Day Rodeo at the Lee County Posse Arena on Sunday. CHUCK BALLARO

One of the things that was different this year was the announcer. Tyler Cornett took over from longtime announcer Al Curry after he had served that role for years.

“I used to live here in Fort Myers, but went to Texas to become an announcer and compete in rodeos and have more work,” Cornett said. “I’ve known Al my whole life and he’s done a great job. I’m glad to carry the torch.”

What wasn’t different was the reaction from the crowd. Nikki Midolo, of Fort Myers, brought her two sons to their first rodeo. Everyone loved it.

“We have some friends who come here and we wanted to come and try it out. I got my clothes from Gypsy Outlaws, a local business,” Midolo said. “It’s really cool to see this part of Florida. I’ve been here 18 years and never really knew this existed. It will be one of many rodeos we attend.”

The Lee County Posse Arena is the only non-profit equestrian arena in Southwest Florida. It was established in 1960 by Lee County Sheriff Snag Thompson and others.

Jillian Sanchez attempts to get on the horse during the buddy pick-up event at the 62nd annual Cracker Day Rodeo at the Lee County Posse Arena on Sunday. CHUCK BALLARO

“Their objective was to provide a place where kids can come to ride. enjoy themselves and be safe,” Harrison said. “We’ve been rolling with all volunteers ever since.”

The Lee County Posse Arena is at 17401 Palm Creek Drive. For more, go to www.leecountyposse.com.