LOVINGTON, N.M. – Many great things are part of the Lea County Fair & Rodeo.
With a long rodeo history, this section of New Mexico knows the sport better than most. They know great cowboys, from guys like Jake McClure in the early 1900s to the young guns like Jim and Jake Cooper. They know great animal athletes, like Guy Allen’s great horse Jeremiah, four times voted the PRCA/AQHA Steer Roping Horse of the Year.
That’s why the expert fans in this part of the world are happy to see the Rafter C brand of Carr Pro Rodeo come to town for the 76th annual Lea County Fair and Rodeo, which will have four performances set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10-Saturday, Aug. 13, at Jake McClure Arena.
“When you go to Lovington, you know you’re going to get on good animals because Pete Carr is coming to town,” said bareback D.V. Fennell, a two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Porum, Okla. “Pete Carr’s just got a great herd of bucking horses, the kind you know you can win on. That’s one of the great things about Lovington.”
That’s definitely part of the recent history of the rodeo, which is part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Wrangler Million Dollar Tour. Money won in Lea County not only counts toward the world standings but also the tour standings, where the top 24 contestants in each event qualify for the Justin Boots Playoffs in Puyallup, Wash.
From there, the top 12 earn a trip to the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb. Both events feature two of the largest purses in the PRCA, and that is important in the sport; not only do cowboys and cowgirls make their livings on the rodeo trail, but dollars equal points. The contestant who has earned the most money in each event at the conclusion of the season is crowned world champion.
“It’s a tour rodeo, so you want to make sure you get to those,” said bull rider Howdy Cloud, a three-time NFR qualifier from Kountze, Texas.
In fact, money won at Lovington was a boon for some of the top names in the sport.
“It meant a lot because it bumped me up in the tour standings, and I was able to go to Puyallup and Omaha,” said bull rider Wesley Silcox, the 2007 world champion from Payson, Utah. “Last year at Omaha, Steve Woolsey and I each won over $30,000.”
Silcox earned his fifth trip to the NFR, ProRodeo’s grand finale that takes place each December in Las Vegas. Louie Brunson hasn’t quite earned a qualification to the NFR, but he’s been close. Only the top 15 in the world standings get to play for the biggest money in the sport; Brunson hopes to parlay his win in Lovington a year ago into a shot at the NFR this year.
“The tour is pretty important,” said Brunson, a saddle bronc rider from Interior, S.D. “If you make Puyallup, you can make piles of money. If you make it to Omaha, you can almost double your season’s earnings. It’s pretty important. A lot of guys made the finals just off those two rodeos.”
But that’s not the only reason why the Lea County Fair and Rodeo is successful. It helps that purse is one of the largest in the PRCA, but there’s a lot more that goes into it.
“They have a wonderful group of people on the fair and rodeo boards that I have gotten to know very well and have become friends with,” said Carr, owner of the livestock firm. “They work very hard throughout the year.”