WHERE COWBOYS AND COWGIRLS COME FROM

WHERE COWBOYS AND COWGIRLS COME FROM

BY MARIA IANNUCCI
PHOTOS BY LAUREN GREEN

 

At Central Florida Rodeo, based in Lakeland, it’s all that and more; though it caters to a much younger demographic just starting on the path to becoming cowboys and cowgirls. All you need is a pair of chaps, a well-fitting cowboy hat, and a hankering for fun.

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Four years ago, Mike and Lynn Matthews of Lakeland, along with the late Timmy Locke and Jimmy Harrell, saw the opportunity for children to learn a variety of rodeo skills while having lots of fun, and established the Central Florida Rodeo Association. The Matthews remain as the caretakers of this endeavor and their Facebook page offers a clear explanation of its purpose: “The Central Florida Rodeo Association was established this year to give kids more opportunity to rodeo and have fun as they learn sportsmanship, team work and care and understanding of their animals. They have the chance to participate in a sport that has a long-lived heritage.”

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Once a month, the Association rents the Aldine Combee Arena on Fish Hatchery Road in Lakeland and hosts an evening of fun for riders, families and guests alike. “We wanted to have a place for kids to ride, learn about their animals and just have a good time,” said Lynn, the Association’s secretary. “We have many volunteers who donate their time each month to the many children who participate.”

Children in 4 age divisions can compete in a variety of events including sheep riding, barrel racing, poles, goat tying, team roping, breakaway, tie down, chute dogging, calf and steer riding. With the exception of the calves for calf riding that are provided by Curtis Clark, the Matthews provide all of the remaining animals save for the horses that the participants trailer in. Participants come from Polk County and well beyond to be a part of the fun.

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With over 60 members; kids and their families, friends and onlookers decend upon the arena on rodeo night, many of which are decked out in everything appropriate for the occasion, including chaps, boots, and the ever-classic cowboy hat fit snugly to each head. “All the kids dress up,” said Lynn. “We ask that all participants wear rodeo attire. We are trying to get them ready to move up into higher ranks if they choose go on from these levels. Attire is very important later, like to the WPRA, so we are preparing them now. So even the littlest ones must wear it.” And they do. Metallic pink or sheepskin chaps are not uncommon for both the standards of dress and the protection they offer.

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Kids from under age 5 up to 19 are eligible for membership at a nominal fee, and there’s an entry fee per event. The proceeds help to offset the cost of the facility with a portion that goes towards an end-of-season banquet held each year in October after a twoday final; oodles of prizes are awarded as part of the celebration. Central Florida Rodeo is pleased to offer payouts in every event.

The rodeo begins with the grand entry, where all the horse riders circle the arena, pay tribute to the American flag, and join 13-yearold Kaitlyn McIver in the singing of the National Anthem. Events run in planned sequence; even if you don’t have a little one holding on tightly to the back of a sheep or a child racing barrels, it’s still an entertaining show.

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The Matthews are happy to add to the children’s rodeo experience by offering extra training to riders as they grow. “We give these kids a place to ride their horses and have clinics to get better at what they do,” said Lynn. They may not be good at traditional sports, but might be amazing with horses and rodeo.” Wednesday is kid’s night at their North Lakeland home and children are invited to practice there at no charge, even if they are not a member of the club.

“Parents have told us that they find their children learning better in school because of rodeo,” said Lynn. That’s what it’s all about. We donate our time for the sake of the kids; they are worth it.”

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