LOVINGTON, N.M. – When Jessica Blair-Fowlkes rides into Jake McClure Arena during the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, she will do it while standing astride two beautiful gray horses.
She will coax them to run and truly showcase their talents inside the massive, dirt floor on the Lea County Fairgrounds in Lovington. Because of the sheer size of the stadium, the powerful and athletic geldings will pick up high speed. It adds more flair to an already entertaining package.
“Large pens are the most fun, because you can let your horses run,” said Blair-Fowlkes, a trick rider and entertainer who is showcasing her abilities during the rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9-Saturday, Aug. 12; that also includes Lea County Xtreme Bulls, which is Tuesday, Aug. 8. “With roman riding, you have to be careful, they’ll get going pretty fast.
“It’s kind of scary, but it’s a lot of fun.”
The thrills of the moment and the excitement of performing before big crowds drive the Kentucky entertainer. She has three matching gray geldings: Moose, Wishbone and the younger Waco, the latter of which is being worked more and more into her acts to alleviate some pressure on Moose, a 22-year-old.
Blair-Fowlkes also does a liberty act; she showcases her horse-whispering talents with one of her partners, which is being cued without the use of a bridle. It’s a powerful display of the relationship she has with her animals and how she can communicate with them without being joined by a lead rope or headstall.
“I grew up with horses,” she said. “My grandpa and parents all had horses. My grandpa had a small beef cattle operation in Tennessee. I didn’t rope or run barrels when I was a kid. I got into rodeo because my grandpa would lease some of his calves to a local stock contractor. I started carrying the flag at some of those rodeos. That’s how I saw trick riding.
“I got a lot later start to trick riding. When I was in college, I worked at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge (Tennessee). I started trick riding there.”
She joined the PRCA in 2012 and has continued to build on her career.
“I had started barrel racing on and off at rodeos, and I quickly figured out that I could combine what I enjoyed and make money consistently as a specialty act,” Blair-Fowlkes said. “I was a cheerleader and always in dance, so I thought when I could showboat for money, it made a little more sense.”
It fits her talent and her personality quite well. It’s also a chance for her to put the love she has for her horses on full display.
“I can still trick ride, but I do the roman riding and liberty act because of how I travel,” she said, noting that her mother, Michelle Blair, and her children, Wilder, 7, and Farrah, 4, also are on the road with her during the summer; her husband, Preston, takes care things back home. “I’ve worked hard on the liberty act traveling by myself. It’s what I prefer. I like the horsemanship aspect of roman riding and the liberty act, and with getting older, you want to mature with your craft.”
Working the Lovington rodeo will mark the first time she’s performed in New Mexico, and she’s looking forward to being part of such a legendary event. There is great history with the rodeo in the state’s most southeastern county, bordered by Texas on two sides.
“When you work big rodeos like that, you feel it’s an accomplishment, and you feel like your work is being recognized,” said Blair-Fowlkes, who has also been selected to perform at the National Finals Rodeo the past two years. “You’re standing beside people you used to look up to.
“Working the NFR is obviously a big honor. It’s a combination of all the hard work you and your horses have made. I drove my kids thousands of miles through the summer to make it all worth it.”
Blair-Fowlkes’ life and livelihood are centered around her passions, caring for horses, showing off her abilities and their talents, and entertaining crowds of people. She experiences it every day, and she looks forward to her chance to do it in Lea County this August.