Brown-dirt thrills, spills

Hundreds attend the action-packed rodeo and festival in its 31st year.

By LOGAN NEILL, Times Staff Writer
Published October 15, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - On the advice of his veteran partner, 18-year-old Tab Morgan spent a few minutes Sunday afternoon limbering up in preparation for his first attempt at the "wild horse race" at the Hernando County Rodeo and Barbecue Festival.

"You might as well be loose," said the teen's cohort, Jeff Aldridge. "Because you're sure going to be sore tomorrow.

Aldridge knows of what he speaks, and he has the bumps and bruises to prove it. He wore a special brace over his knee to protect it while he and teammates Morgan and Curtis King attempted the rodeo feat, which involved chasing down and capturing an untamed 1,200-pound animal as it thrashed through the arena.

The three-man team from Okeechobee made a fine show of it, much to the delight of Janine Dickerson, who was among several hundred watching the rodeo from the stands.

"You have to be a little half-cocked to even try something like that," Dickerson said. "I know it's something I'd never try."

The weekend rodeo offered plenty for seekers of brown-dirt thrills. Three days of events sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association brought fans from throughout central Florida, said event chairwoman Nancy Hurst.

"We had calls all week from people outside the area who were planning to come," Hurst said. "Having great weather certainly helped."

Festivalgoers had more than just the spectacle of rodeo to lure them. Folks strolled a midway filled with the distinctive smell of Southern barbecue pouring from the mobile kitchens of a half-dozen vendors.

For Diana Hanke, a recent transplant from Illinois, the festival was a great introduction to the laid-back ways of her new Hernando residence. On Sunday, she and her daughter Meagan stopped by the soccercollies.com booth, where a frisky border collie named Beck challenged anyone to kick a soccer ball past him.

"We love it," said Hanke as she watched 8-year-old Meagan play soccer with the pup. "We'll definitely be back next year."

Hurst said that from all indications, the event, which is in its 31st year, was a huge success. Proceeds from the festival will be distributed to a number of Hernando County charities and youth programs.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.