BROOKSVILLE — For more than three decades, the arrival of the second week of October brought with it the sound of pounding hooves, cowboy whoops and the sweet, woody smell of southern barbecue.
What was once one of the largest annual gatherings in Hernando County has taken its last ride.
After losing several thousand dollars on last year's rodeo and barbecue festival, the Hernando Cattlemen's Association has pulled the plug on the 31-year-old event.
Association president Sam Sikes said that although there were several factors involved in shelving the festival, it mainly boiled down to lack of money.
"The price of putting it on kept going up and there just weren't enough sponsors to help with the cost," Sikes said. "It wasn't doing anybody any good to keep losing money on it."
Sikes wouldn't say exactly how much the festival lost in 2007, but admitted, "it was a lot more than we could afford."
For more than three decades, the three-day festival, which was held at the Hernando County Airport, could claim to be one of the largest professional rodeo gatherings in Florida. The event attracted some of the country's top riders in such contests such as saddle and bareback bronc riding, team and tie-down roping, steer wrestling, bull riding and barrel racing. Prize purses often exceeded $10,000.
In addition to gate fees, the association also made money from selling concessionaire space and parking. Proceeds from the event went to support local Future Farmers of America chapters as well as several other youth leadership organizations in Hernando County .
However, according to last year's rodeo chairwoman Nancy Hurst, the event began running into financial trouble when the county's economy began to soften.
"Things were pretty much okay until then," Hurst said. "But when you have people losing their jobs they're going to be thinking twice about spending money to go to a rodeo."
Hurst said that lack of sponsorship money also hurt. Sponsors helped pay for many costs associated with the rodeo such as insurance, medical personnel as well as the cost of acquiring stock for the event.
Rick Ahrens, an agriculture science teacher and FFA advisor at Hernando High School said that the rodeo gave invaluable experience to many of his students.
"They got involved with every aspect of it," Ahrens said. "It was an activity they looked forward to every year."
Despite the rodeo's financial woes, cattlemen's association member Richard Klimas wondered whether the event had simply run its course.
"The county has changed a lot in 30 years and maybe there just aren't that many people interested in rodeos as there used to be," said Klimas, who is helping put together an association-sponsored garden tractor pull at Hernando County Fairgrounds on Saturday.
Klimas said the one-day event, which will help support youth agriculture programs, will certainly be an easier task than staging a rodeo.
"The idea is to keep costs low and make it affordable for people to go to," Klimas said. "Considering the way the economy's been going, I think it's the best route we can go right now."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or 848-1435.