Explore Okeechobee’s Cowboy Heritage

OKEECHOBEE — Cattle have been an important part of Okeechobee’s economy since the first settlers arrived in the Big Lake area over 100 years ago.

Modern Okeechobee County is still cattle country. It is listed as one of the top three counties in Florida with the most cattle, and among the Top 10 in the country!

Florida Cracker Trail

While today’s cowboys take advantage of modern agribusiness technology, it’s not unusual to see a cowboy on horseback separating cattle from the herd and driving through the ranchland, much like the pioneers did years ago along “The Florida Cracker Trail.”

Equestrians who want a real challenge can keep history alive by riding the Florida Cracker Trail, which passes through Okeechobee County each year. The annual 120 mile ride traces the trails ridden by the Florida Cracker Cow Hunters as they took their herds to market. The ride is held the last week in February. It begins at a site just east of Bradenton, Fla. and ends in Fort Pierce, traveling an average of 15 miles a day. Riders may ride as many days as they wish, or may elect to ride in the mornings only. Photo by: Katrina Elsken.

The Florida Cracker Trail is a 120-mile long cattle path that passes through Okeechobee County. The trail is now designated by brown state signs, to remind locals and visitors alike that historical state-wide cattle drives once took place along the route.

Today, the Florida Cracker Trail Association hosts an annual cross-state ride along the “Cracker Trail” to showcase, educate, and help preserve the importance of Florida’s role cattle and agriculture. For information on how to join the ride, go online to www.crackertrail.org.

The Florida Cracker Trail Association is a non-profit organization of volunteers dedicated to the mission of “Keeping History Alive,” by educating through demonstration, the Old Florida Cracker Pioneer ways of agriculture, animal husbandry, and respect for the land as well as the hardships and joys of life on the original frontier.

Ranch Rodeo

Cowboy heritage is also evidenced in the popular local rodeos, which are ample in Okeechobee.

A Ranch Rodeo is held in July at the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Arena in celebration of the “National Day of the American Cowboy.”

In a ranch rodeo, teams of cowboys from area ranches compete in events that test the skills they use in their everyday jobs. In the saddle bronc riding event, instead of special rodeo equipment, they use the same saddles they use to work cattle.

Ranch rodeos attract working cowboys who currently work on South Florida ranches. The events in a ranch rodeo are based on actual skills the cowboy uses to work the herd, such as: calf roping, team “doctoring,” team sorting, wild cow milking, relay race, double mugging and bronc riding. In these events, the team works together to perform a task similar to those done on the ranch, just like cowboys work together on ranches.

Those competing in ranch rodeos use the same equipment and tack that cowboys use in everyday work.

If these rules seem confusing, not to worry, for those at a Ranch Rodeo who are new to the sport, the announcer explains the rules as the rodeo unfolds.

Okeechobee County ranches compete at area rodeos to earn points to qualify for the state competition in Kissimmee and ultimately the national competition.

This year, the Okeechobee County Cattlemen’s Ranch Rodeo is scheduled for July 15, 2017, at the open-aired, historical grand-stand Cattlemen’s Arena.

The Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Association also hosts Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association rodeos.

Okeechobee Cowtown Rodeo

According to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (PRCA), legend has it that American rodeo was born on July 4, 1869 when two groups of cowboys from neighboring ranches met in Deer Trail, Colo., to settle an argument over who was the best at performing everyday ranching tasks. That competition is considered to be the first rodeo, which evolved into rodeo as we know it today.

Sometimes, even at the rodeo, you just have to make your own fun. This little fan from Arcadia is doing just that.

PRCA cowboys compete in rodeos all over the country, earning points and money that qualifies them for the national championship event in Las Vegas, NV.

The Okeechobee Cattlemen’s Association produces the Okeechobee Cowtown Rodeo every March as their annual fundraiser. Professional cowboys and cowgirls from all corners of the nation make Okeechobee their home for the weekend and compete for prizes and money. This year’s Cowtown Rodeo will be March 11th -12th at the Okeechobee Cattlemen’s open-aired, historical grand stand arena on U.S. 441 North, and will have 12-time PRCA Rodeo Specialty Act of the Year, “The One Armed Bandit” as additional entertainment.

Florida High School Rodeo & Junior High School Rodeo

Okeechobee County also has active youth in high school rodeo and junior rodeo events. The Florida High School Rodeo Association hosts competitions for rodeo teams from Florida High Schools. Rodeo contestants travel around the state competing in a series at high schools to earn points toward their state rankings.

The top 15 contestants in each event will compete in the state finals, and the top four to finish in each event at the state level go on to compete in the National High School Rodeo Finals.

Children who visit the rodeo in Okeechobee may have the chance to participate in the calf scramble, a traditional event. Children are invited to come into the arena and try to be the first to win a prize by grabbing a ribbon off the tail of a calf. Photo by: Katrina Elsken

The Florida Junior High School Rodeo Association is a division of the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. The top 20 kids in each event at the end of the season move on to compete at the Florida State Finals. The top four in each event after state finals then have the option of moving on to compete at the national finals.

May 11-14 Okeechobee County will host the Florida High School Rodeo finals at the Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center, 4601 SR 710. For more information on high school rodeo, go online to http://fisra.homestead.com.

Extreme Bull Riding

Another type of rodeo found in Okeechobee County is known as X-treme bull riding.

The rules are simple: Place a wiry cowboy on the back of a hulking, snorting temperamental 2,000-pound bull and see if he can stay on for an eternal eight seconds … with only one hand strapped to the bull.

The Okeechobee Labor Day Bull Bash is held at the open-aired, historical grand-stand Cattlemen’s Arena over Labor Day weekend. The event is a sanctioned Southern State Bull Riding event, where contestants aim to win points and money to advance them along in the SSBR circuit.
For more on events produced by the Okeechobee County Cattlemen’s Association, go online to www.OkeechobeeRodeo.com and www.OkeechobeeCattlemen.com.

If you are a fan of bull riding, you won’t want to miss the Labor Day Bull Bash at the Okeechobee County Cattlemen’s Association Rodeo Arena on U.S. Highway 441.

The Lake Okeechobee News is published every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and now includes news from around the lake every Wednesday.

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