Sold out shows

The 31st annual Southeastern Pro Rodeo treated packed crowds to two nights of roping, racing and riding.

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Posted March 16, 2024 | By Christian Gordon, Special to the Gazette
Photos By Bruce Ackerman

Rumor had it there would be a zebra performing as part of the Southeastern Pro Rodeo and friends Catherine Keith and Bailey Kirk looked forward to seeing the animal in action. They were not disappointed.

The 31st annual event, held at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion March 15 and 16, had two sold out shows.

On Friday, before the 7:30 p.m. start, guests could visit a bevy of vendors and shops. Leather goods were aplenty, with booths selling everything from leather coasters to leather pillows. More conventional goods were available as well, with food, drink, clothing, bags, wallets and an assortment of hats for guests to browse through.

As the rodeo start time approached, the anticipation was palpable. Children pointed and became antsy as a tractor evened the sand of the arena for a final time. The aura of eagerness seemed to permeate through newcomers and rodeo veterans alike.

Adam and Amanda Aponte have attended the rodeo for the past three years and said they feel it only gets more fun year over year.

“It’s just good, family fun,” Adam Aponte said, joined by his wife and four children in the stands. “We talk about this event the whole year. We wait for it.”

The couple noted that their children especially enjoy the barrel racing event. The Apontes expressed that the rodeo has an important role in fostering a sense of community and would be an unforgettable night for anyone new to the event.

The night started with two horses breaking out into the arena in a sprint, their riders holding flags with the Southeastern Pro Rodeo logo. The crowd roared as the two riders returned to the gate and an announcer rode into the middle of the arena. His entrance was quickly followed by a rider trotting around the perimeter of the arena flying an American flag while the announcer gave a patriotic speech about what the flag would say if it could speak.

Sheriff Billy Woods and a deputy entered the arena on foot and Woods offered a prayer, followed by the deputy singing the National Anthem.

In the first event, bull riding, riders were wildly flung by agitated bulls as they tried their best to hold on for the longest amount of time.

Riders were similarly thrashed during bareback horse-riding. As the gate opened, each horse struck out from behind it and into the arena, violently kicking and sprinting as each rider held on steadfast. Riders were treated to the same rigors during the saddle bronc riding event that followed shortly after.

The next event was the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association’s (WPRA) breakaway roping event. This challenge saw a lineup of female competitors attempt to rope a calf in the shortest amount of time after the animal was released from a gate.
Following that was a round of steer wrestling, in which each horseback rider dismounted to take hold of a steer’s horns and wrestle the animal to the ground in the quickest time.

In the team roping event, pairs of horseback riders chased after a calf. While one rider roped the calf around the neck, the other roped the hind legs, with the objective being to do so as quickly as possible. A short show was performed by the rodeo clown before intermission commenced.

After intermission, came the tie down roping round. During this event, a horseback rider would try to rope a calf and, if successful, dismount to bind the calf’s hind legs in the least amount of time.

Then, John Payne, the “One Arm Bandit” entered the arena.

Payne lost an arm after an electrical accident 50 years ago. He began performing in rodeos about 34 years ago. During his show on Friday night, he exhibited masterful control over his horse and a South African zebra. He could be seen giving commands to his horse through subtle hand gestures while herding another horse and the zebra to the top of a tall horse trailer. The roar from the crowd gave the impression that the “One Arm Bandit’s” performance was a highlight of the night.

The rodeo closed out with WPRA barrel racing, as the women riders led their steeds around two barrels before they sprinted back towards the gate they came from, all without making contact with any barrel, and a second a second round of bull riding.

From the raucous cheers and thunderous applause of the crowd, it appeared that Ocala’s beloved pro rodeo once again was a huge success.

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