IT WAS Owen Lee's first time riding competitively in the Whitsundays but the joy of winning in front of friends and family will be long remembered.
The home-grown cowboy won the open bareback title at the Proserpine Lions Rodeo for Suicide Prevention at the weekend, scoring rides of 78 and 74.
Not only did he salute at his home rodeo, Lee also won the Central Rodeo Cowboys Association open bareback ride of the year award.
"It was awesome," Lee said.
"It's the first time I've got to ride a bronc in my home town, so it was pretty special.
"It was pretty unreal to stand on the shutes looking up in the crowd, seeing all those familiar faces.
"It definitely put the pressure on but it made the experience incredible."
Lee drew White Lightning - the horse on which he won the State of Origin title in Mareeba earlier this year - in the short round before being paired with Peggy Sue in the finals.
It was as if the stars aligned for Lee, who earmarked both broncs as ones he wanted to dance with on the big stage.
Not only was the night a personal success, Lee said it was a triumph for all involved - calling it one of the best CRCA finals events he had ever attended.
"She was awesome. The boys were saying it was their biggest-ever crowd at a finals rodeo," Lee said.
"There aren't too many shows that get a massive crowd like that, especially the crowd on Saturday night - it was massive."
The size and enthusiasm of the crowd on both nights was also a sticking point for CRCA president Tony Ward.
"Mate, we're over the moon," he said.
"It's the biggest crowd in the history of the CRCA over two nights of finals rodeos. It's absolutely astounding.
"In 26 years of running the CRCA, I've never seen anything like it."
Mr Ward said the weekend provided some terrific family entertainment, including pony rides on Saturday, before the crowd was left in awe of "some of the rankest horses we've seen at the finals in the last 10 years or more".
"It's normally the bulls that everyone raves about... but they were screaming at the horses," he said.
"They really brought the crowd alive."
Mr Ward said the support of fans and sponsors, and the help the CRCA received from Proserpine Lions, Proserpine Rodeo Association, Whitsunday Bald Eagles and everyone else involved, had made the rodeo weekend one to remember.
A Mile in Their Shoes president Jack Lumby said he had three goals for the weekend - to raise money for suicide prevention, bring the community together and make it an affordable event for families.
"We achieved all three," he said.
He thanked everyone involved for their support in making the rodeo a success.
"We had fantastic numbers, between 3200 and 3500 for the weekend," Mr Lumby said.
When asked whether the CRCA would host its finals in the Whitsundays next year, Mr Ward said it was entirely up to the committees running the event. "But we'd be back there at the drop of a hat," he added.
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