If you are organized, you can do anything.
It’s a good thing that Heather Blandford Burns, the sole employee of the Silver Spurs Rodeo, carries around an attitude like this.
The Silver Spurs Rodeo office is responsible for putting on two rodeos each year (including a special bull riding-only performance) and hosting the largest state barrel racing finals in the United States, the Florida ranch rodeo state finals, and, most recently, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association series rodeo called the Wrangler Champions Challenge.
Burns doesn’t just run the office. She is the office. She gets it all done year after year under the guidance of the Silver Spurs Club’s Big Boss (chairman of the board) and a board of directors, and with the help of more than 300 volunteer-members.
But before we delve into the intricacies of what it takes to put on a rodeo, let’s back up about 76 years. In 1941, a group of Osceola County ranchers rode together in Governor Spessard Holland’s inaugural parade in Tallahassee, earning statewide attention. They continued to gather to enjoy their common interest – horseback riding – leading to the formation of the Silver Spurs Riding Club at the home of Geech and Connie Partin in May of 1941.
In 1944, the club put on a rodeo as its contribution to the Fourth War Loan. Admission to the rodeo was the purchase of a war bond, and over 1,000 people attended. Because it was a successful endeavor, the club put on its first full-dress rodeo on July 4, 1944. The rest, as they say, is history. The Silver Spurs Riding Club, an agricultural nonprofit organization, hasn’t stopped putting on rodeos since then.
One element that has changed, though, is the rodeo’s venue. The first rodeo was hosted on land donated by Henry O. Partin (near what is now the corner of Neptune Road and Kings Highway in Kissimmee). Then, in 1949, the club acquired land on 192 and started building an outdoor arena. In 2002, the outdoor arena was purchased by Osceola County, and the county built what is now the Silver Spurs Arena at Osceola Heritage Park.
In the 16 years that she’s worked for the Silver Spurs Rodeo, Burns has put on 35 Silver Spurs Rodeos, and she says they’re never the same.
“The history of this club is fascinating. But as the world turns and changes, we have had to do the same. The way the club and rodeo are now is definitely different than it was when I started working for them. Sometimes you do have to remember that just because it worked back then, doesn’t mean it will now,” says Burns.
Flexibility is key, and Burns exhibits that when she talks about jumping around between tasks.
“If a volunteer doesn’t show up, I can be running a spotlight one minute, and parking cars the next. There is no job too big or too small,” Burns says.
It’s a busy job when a rodeo is just around the corner. Burns manages everything from ticket sales to vendor relations to concessions to contracted personnel. When it’s not an event month, she is either planning for the next rodeo or cleaning up after one that just passed. In the fall, when things are “slow”, Burns stays busy organizing the club’s annual golf tournament, the Cowboy Classic, which raises funds for college scholarships for deserving high school seniors in Osceola County.
Burns, who was born and raised in St. Cloud, married her husband, Chad Burns, in 2012. He is supportive of her hectic schedule, and even pitches in to help out during event months when the line between her personal life and professional life blurs a bit.
Burns doesn’t seem to mind that she’s a one-woman-show in a man’s world. She says she’s loved all sixteen of her bosses (the Big Boss changes every year), only one of whom was a woman. She believes that if you give respect, you’ll get it back, and that philosophy has served her well over the years.
The 138th Silver Spurs Rodeo takes place February 17-19 at Silver Spurs Arena. If you attend, you’ll probably catch a glimpse of Burns ensuring that the community she loves sees a first class show.