Marianne of East of Malaga has created the One Trip EVERY Month Challenge which sounds like fun. She’s even suggesting we include those local places of interest that we never get around to visiting but wished we had.
With cameras in hand, Ron and I headed to The Cracker Day Rodeo, which took place at The Lee County Posse Arena in North Fort Myers, Florida, the end of January.
“If you climb in the saddle, be ready for the ride.” ___Unknown
We just had a few hours to spend and missed some of the events, but watching these young people, mostly girls, give it their all, was an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
The contestants are divided into two divisions: the Pee Wee, ages 10 and under and the Junior, ages 11-17.
Parents and grandparents sported their western wear as they took seats on the worn out bleachers and the procession got under way. The Grand Entry was presented by the Lee County Junior Posse comprising of at least 30 girls riding in on horseback, some with flags.
The event commentator, a fifth generation Florida Cracker, with a booming voice, announced the rodeo queen and proudly, with shining tiara, she rode in. Immediate applause from the stands.
With music blaring from the loudspeakers, from country to disco, the team of girls skillfully did their routine. Timing was everything as they crissed-crossed in front of each other on their beautifully groomed horses.
The Pee Wee Goat Tail Tying competition consisted of riding into the ring, dismounting and tying a ribbon on the tail of a goat, which was held in place by the “goat lady.” For some it wasn’t as easy as it looked. No goat is going to stand completely still and enjoy having its tail tied.
Even harder was the Junior Goat Tying competition which consisted of riding in, dismounting, catching a goat which was tethered on a long rope, flipping it on its side and tying three legs together. To qualify, the goat had to remain tied for six seconds and many a goat wiggled loose before then.
The Hairpin competition consisted of riding in and racing around one barrel back to the start line for the fastest time. These girls and their horses seemed to have that one down.
The Posse Arena was founded in 1960 and the Cracker Day Rodeo is its signature event. It receives no funding from the county and is a non-profit organization which helps fund local 4-H and high school rodeos. It was clear that many of these contestants come from families whose parents and even grandparents once rode in that same arena. This part of the county is horse, cattle and agricultural, noted from the many farms and ranches dotting the area.
The term “cracker” is based on Florida’s “cracker cowboys” of the 19th and early 20th centuries; distinct from the Spanish vaquero and the Western cowboy. During this time, Florida was once the largest cattle producer behind Texas. These were no common cows. They were descendents of the Spanish Andalusian stock left from the days of Ponce De Leon in 1521. Rough and rugged, these cows could subsist on palmetto leaves and the scrub land. They seemed to resist the heat, humidity, and malarial mosquitoes.
Instead of fencing their cattle, they were left to roam. Cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Instead they used dogs and long braided-leather whips to round up and move cows. The crack of the whip could be heard for days as cattle were driven down the main streets of Ft. Myers to the Punta Rassa dock where they could be shipped to Cuba. Today, Punta Rassa is where the bridge goes to Sanibel Island, one of SW Florida’s famous beach destinations.
The Florida Cracker Horse also traces its ancestry to De Leon. Left behind by the Spanish, these Iberian Horses of Spanish and African descent adapted to their Florida surroundings, a breed that evolved from natural selection. It was this breed that has had a vital role in Florida emerging as a ranching and agricultural state. It also had an important role with the Seminole Indians. Today, these ponies are called: Chickasaw Pony, Seminole Pony, Marsh Tackie, Prairie Pony, Florida Horse, Florida Cow Pony, Grass Gut and others. The Florida Cracker Horse Association was chartered in 1989 as a non-profit Florida Corporation. Its purpose is the preservation and perpetuation of the Cracker Horse as a distinct and unique Colonial Spanish breed of horse.
The expression “cracker” is commonly used to designate a Florida native, but is also used as a derogatory term meaning, redneck, etc.
Obviously, the Cracker Day Rodeo is a venue that proudly honors its pioneer and Florida heritage, and is a place to showcase these kids’ hard work and talent.
“Let a horse whisper in your ear and breathe on your heart. You will never regret it.” ~Unknown