LOVINGTON, N.M. – The rodeo history in southeastern New Mexico is as rich as the rugged terrain that makes up Lea County.
It’s proven in the men who laid the foundation for the rich rodeo tradition, men like Jake McClure, Troy Fort, Sonny Davis, Roy Cooper and Jimmie Cooper. It reappears every summer when this community hosts the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9-Saturday, Aug. 12, at Jake McClure Arena; that also includes Lea County Xtreme Bulls, which is Tuesday, Aug. 8.
“One thing I look at is that we’re off the beaten path to be this big of a rodeo,” said Trey Kerby, chairman of the Lea County Fair Board’s rodeo committee. “A lot of people have to drive a long way to get here. That says a lot about something that’s been around for 82 years.”
Rodeo’s greatest stars converge on this community of about 11,000 over the course of the five performances. Every winner from the 2016 rodeo has already competed at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which is a tell-tale sign of the greatness that happens inside the fairgrounds’ arena.
“This is always a big rodeo that everybody wants to win,” said Cody Rostockyj, last year’s winner from Lorena, Texas.
Over the years, Lovington’s rodeo has been recognized as one of the best large events in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. That’s no small task; the Lea County Fair and Rodeo has been listed with rodeos like the Pendleton (Ore.) Roundup and Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days.
“It’s something special to be down in the middle of our rodeo,” said Kerby, who grew up in Lea County and has been around his hometown rodeo all his life. “A lot of the contestants come straight from Sikeston (Mo.) just to compete here. It says we’re doing something right for them to come all that way to be here.
“We pay good, and we make it a good rodeo with good livestock. I think that’s attractive to the cowboys who come here.”
It’s also something that helps attract fans from all over the region to Lovington; they know where the top cowboys will be in early August every year.
“We don’t just draw from Lea County,” Kerby said. “We have many people come from west Texas, up north in New Mexico … pretty much all over. There aren’t a lot of things here but ranches and people who know rodeo, so it means a lot to me that they make their way here.”
What is it that makes the Lea County Fair and Rodeo so special to those rodeo fans and the hundreds of contestants that area part of the annual event?
“It’s an accumulation of everything: the world-class stock and the world-class athletes that come to do it,” he said. “If anybody follows rodeo, they know just about everybody that shows up here.”