Standing tall and riding high

In the moments between the saddle bronc competition and the barrel racing, Jessica Blair Fowlkes has the grounds of the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo all to herself.

Five feet above the ground, the trick rider from Kentucky enters the arena standing tall with one foot on the back of each of her matching pale horses.

For several minutes, Blair Fowlkes races around the edges of the arena and weaves around obstacles before leaping with her horses over a wall of flames and riding off into the night.

Every year, the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo features a specialty act who rides in between the traditional rodeo events. This year is Blair Fowlkes’s first time performing her Roman riding in Utah. Roman riding is a form of trick riding where the performer stands atop multiple horses.

Growing up on a beef cattle farm in Eastern Tennessee, Blair Fowlkes always rode horses, but it wasn’t until college that she picked up trick riding.

While earning degrees in animal science and nursing, Blair Fowlkes was also working at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, a country western themed tourist attraction. There she learned how to become a professional trick rider.

“I always told her she was crazy,” said her mother, Michele Blair.

A decade after starting at the Dixie Stampede, Blair Fowlkes now spends around 40 weeks a year on the road performing as a rodeo specialty act. By her side for nearly all of those trips are her mother and her 13-month-old son Wilder. When Blair Fowlkes had her son last year, it was less than three months before she was back on the road again.

This week, her husband has had time off from his own rodeo business and has joined her in Ogden.

Often these trips are relatively short weekend turns at rodeos around the Southeast, but the rodeo business is changing. In recent years, Blair Fowlkes says she has seen a decline in the number of rodeos hiring specialty acts. This is especially true in the South where the trend is moving towards shortening rodeos and featuring large concerts at the end.

Despite the changes, Blair Fowlkes remains on the road and on her horses. After five nights of riding in Ogden, she'll pack up her trailer and family and head to Montana where two more rodeos are waiting before making the trip back to Kentucky.