The ground rumbled with the thunderous beat of charging horses last weekend as cowboys and cowgirls from across the nation brought the flavor of the Old West to Columbia County.
A near-capacity crowd of 3,000 packed the stands at the Merchants Association of Columbia County Fairgrounds Friday and Saturday for the third annual Rodeo Night.
The two-day rodeo is the second-largest annual fundraising event benefiting the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation.
Last year, the rodeo raised $33,000 to help the burn victims treated at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital, organizers said.
Rodeo Nights boasted several feature competitions, including saddle bronc riding, calf roping, breakaway roping, saddle bronc riding and bareback riding.
The event opened Friday on a somber tone with a moment of silence and dedication of the rodeo to the burn foundation's late executive director, Charles A. DeVaney. The former Augusta mayor died in January and a successor on the burn foundation has yet to be named.
After a sad beginning, Rodeo Nights shot into action, thrilling the crowd, including 3-year-old Parker Chance, of Evans. Parker isn't a cowboy yet, but wearing a Stetson hat and a silver plastic six-shooter on his belt, he looked the part.
"It's not a costume," said Parker's father, Travers Chance. "He dresses like that all the time."
An excited Parker said his favorite part of the rodeo was watching the cowboys, horses and bulls. He said he wants to be a cowboy one day, "when I grow up like my daddy."
This year's event was the first since the rodeo won the Best New Rodeo in the United States award in January by its sanctioning body, the International Professional Rodeo Association.
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