Julian Hazen wants to be a bull rider someday.
On Friday, the 4-year-old Augusta tyke got a close look at what bull riding is all about.
"It's good. It's really cool," he said while at the second annual Rodeo Nights event at the Merchants Association of Columbia County Fairgrounds. The event benefited the Southeastern Firefighters' Burn Foundation.
Julian, along with his mother, Marine Staff Sgt. Melissa Hazen, were among a near-capacity crowd of 2,500 fans Friday at the rodeo, cheering on up-and-coming rodeo stars and veterans in what organizer David Speight called a "growing" rodeo.
Last year, Rodeo Nights lassoed in about 3,500 spectators and raised $23,000 for the burn foundation during the two-night event.
"We want to make a lot of money for the burn foundation and these first few years are growing years for us," Speight said.
Rodeo Nights joined The International Professional Rodeo Association and attracted nearly 300 contestants, three times last year's total.
This year's event boasted eight feature competitions during the two nights: bareback riding, calf roping, breakaway roping, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, steer wrestling, bull riding and team roping.
With so many contestants and a limited amount of venue time, many of the fans miss out on some of the prized events because runs have to be held after the gates have closed, Speight said.
For that reason, organizers are considering adding a third night of competition to next year's schedule and more entertainment between events such as live music or carnival attractions, Speight said.
Julian's mother, a veteran of many rodeos and a fan of Professional Bull Riding, said Rodeo Nights was "well put together."
"We were looking for bull riding in the area and then this came along and it's closer than Savannah or Rome," she said.
Daniel Suer Sr., of Augusta, brought his 4-year-old son Daniel Jr. to see his second rodeo. Suer said the atmosphere of a rodeo and the competition is what brought them out.
"That kind of Western lifestyle, the old west John Wayne kind of stuff, it's more of a simplistic setting," he said.
Sitting in the crowd, awaiting her husband, Manny Egusquiza, to compete in calf roping, Candis Egusquiza said the performers live for the competition and adrenaline rush.
"It's the idea of how fast can you rope a calf. Who can ride better," said Candis Egusquiza, of Madison, Ga.
Her 3-year-old son Cody was seated against the rodeo pen rails and sporting a Stetson hat. She said Cody will be the next cowboy in the family.
"I don't think he stands any other chance (not becoming a cowboy)," she said.
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