The Ocala-based Southeastern Pro Rodeo celebrates its milestone 25th anniversary March 23-24 at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion.
Over the past three decades, Ruben Lamb has seen Ocala grow from an unknown in the rodeo world to becoming a major rodeo destination. And Lamb, affectionately known in these parts as Mr. Rodeo, knows of what he speaks.
Lamb, who grew up as a ranch cowboy, was instrumental in launching the Ocala Shrine Rodeo in 1983. Encouraged and supported by rodeo friends and fans, Lamb led the process to add the Southeastern Pro Rodeo to Ocala’s saddlebag in 1993. To this day, Lamb serves as the event coordinator for both Ocala-based rodeos.
“There was a time when someone mentioned Ocala to serious rodeo folks and they said, ‘Where the heck is Ocala?’ But that’s changed,” says Lamb. “Now, Ocala is an important rodeo town, and we draw competitors from all over the Southeast, as well as the country. And now we can also brag that Keri Sheffield, the 2018 Miss Rodeo America, is a hometown girl who grew up competing in our rodeos.”
In fact, Sheffield, the first Floridian to be named Miss Rodeo America, is scheduled to make an appearance at the Southeastern Pro Rodeo. She will lead the grand entry to kick off the rodeo, as well as do a meet and greet and sign autographs.
Lamb estimates that more than 200 professional cowboys and cowgirls will compete in the two-day Southeastern Pro Rodeo on Friday and Saturday evening, March 23-24 at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion. The competitors mostly come from a nine-state region, which includes from Arkansas to the east and north to North Carolina. The goal is to win prize money and qualify for the Southeastern Circuit Finals.
The SE Pro Rodeo is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA). Rodeo events include saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping, barrel racing and bull riding.
“We do get competitors from outside the southeast region,” notes Lamb. “In fact, Curtis Garton, a well-known saddle bronc rider from New Zealand, has become a regular participant in our rodeo.”
Lamb, 76, remembers going to rodeo and stock shows as a youngster growing up in Ocala and describes rodeo as “a combination of culture and sport.” And it has a special element not present in other sports.
“Rodeo is unique in that it is one of the only professional sports where participants pay an entry fee to participate,” says Lamb. “I call it pay to play. But make no mistake, these cowboys and cowgirls are serious about their sport. They compete all year long to hopefully qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in December in Las Vegas.”
Of all the rodeo events, Lamb notes that “bull riding and barrel racing are the most popular and draw the biggest crowds.”
In bull riding, the competitor must stay on the bull for eight seconds to get a qualifying score to advance through each go-round to the finals. Lamb describes it as “the most dangerous eight seconds in any sport.”
Barrel racing is all about speed and accuracy. Horse and rider teams race against the clock, running a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels. If a barrel is knocked down, that’s a five-second penalty. Fastest times advance through the rounds to the finals.
“Rodeo is an exciting sport for competitors and spectators,” says Lamb. “The crowd can really get into it and cheer on their favorites. It can get pretty rowdy, but it’s good fun for the whole family, too.”
In addition to the rodeo events, specialty acts set to perform include the Crossfire Cowgirls Rodeo Drill Team and Tim “Wild Thang” Lepard & Team Ghost Riders. Friday night is Wrangler National Patriot Night, which will recognize all military branches and first responders. Also on Friday night, children 6-11 will be admitted for $5; the first 300 kids will receive a Justin Boots contestant back number. Tough Enough To Wear Pink Night will be on Saturday evening with a focus on breast cancer awareness and the Michelle-O-Gram Foundation.
Want to go?
Southeastern Pro Rodeo › Friday & Saturday, March 23-24 › Southeastern Livestock Pavilion, 2232 NE Jacksonville Road, Ocala › ocalarodeo.com › (888) 744-8499
- 5 & Under: Free
- Adults: $15 (advance from outlets listed below), $18 (online & at gate)
- Reserved Box Seating: $30
Gates open each day at 5:30pm, and rodeo begins each day at 7:30pm
SE Pro Rodeo Advance Ticket Outlets
- Tack Shack of Ocala
- Russell’s Western Wear (Ocala)
- Klover Leaf Tack (Williston)
- OBS Feed & Supply (all Ocala locations)
- Rick’s Performance Feed (Ocala & Dunnellon)
- Boot Barn (Ocala, Lady Lake & Gainesville)
- Sparr Building & Farm Supply (Sparr & Wildwood)