In just a short period of time, the PRCA Fort Myers Rodeo has become a place for the top cowboys and cowgirls to come to win some prize money and make strides to get a coveted spot in the National Finals Rodeo at the end of the year.
Thousands of fans have come to appreciate that as the fifth-annual rodeo returned to the Lee County Posse Arena this past weekend. Large crowds came to see the best ride and rope and entertain.
Casey and Margo Crowther have attracted some of the best in the business to make the rodeo a success. Trent McFarland is one of the best rodeo clowns in the business and has come to this rodeo for the last two years.
Brandi Geiger looks happy as a clam to be on her barrel horse as she rounds the second barrel at the PRCA Fort Myers Rodeo on Friday at the Lee County Posse Arena.
McFarland's father was also a rodeo clown. This allowed him to step right in as an entertainer, as opposed to having to fight bulls and risk getting gored and trampled.
He still does his part however, by sitting in the barrel and giving the bull a target, if necessary.
"If something bad happens and the bullfighters are taken out, I move in and give the bull something to target," McFarland said, who has been a clown for more than 20 years. "They say acting like a clown will get you nowhere in life, and last year I went 43 weekends out of the year and all over the country being one."
A clown needs a straight man, and announcer Trey Windhorst provided that role. Having family in the area made it easier for him to work here for the first time, and for him, it's the time of his life."
"The crowd is amazing, the weather is great, I love Fort Myers," said Windhorst, a former bull rider who has been an announcer for 10 years, five in the PRCA. "I got hurt riding bulls and I was sitting there and the coach told me if I couldn't ride, announce."
Windhorst does about 30 to 40 shows a year, many of them multi-day events.
Without the competitors, there is no rodeo. Cody Gaines, from Arcadia, didn't have to come too far to ride in the saddle bronc competition. And it was worth it as he scored 77 points on his ride.
"It's an adrenaline rush, but I love horses and the competition. It's something I've wanted to do since I was a kid. I'm lucky to be able to do it," Gaines said, who competed in about 50 rodeos a year before moving here a year ago.
His girlfriend, Brandy Zwayer, joined him on this night, and, as you might expect, watching him compete brings a lot of fear along with it.
"I always worry about him. It's the worst fear ever when he gets behind the chutes. It's fun until then," Zwayer said.
That was the attraction for those who have gone to hundreds of rodeos, as well as first-timers.
Rosemary Driend, a snowbird from New Hampshire, was attending her first rodeo with her husband, Edward, having learned about it from Facebook.
"We enjoy it. It's the whole atmosphere, the people are very friendly and outside of what we normally do," Driend said. "They don't have many rodeos in New Hampshire."