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.
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Jessica Blair Fowlkes circles Ogden Pioneer Stadium on the backs of her horses on Friday, July 21, 2017, during the third night of the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo. Blair Fowlkes was the featured specialty act for each night of the 2017 rodeo. Each night she performs Roman Riding, a form of trick riding where the rider stands atop multiple horses.
Jessica Blair Fowlkes harnesses her horse, Moose, before performing at the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo on Friday, July 21, 2017. Blair Fowlkes spends most her year on the road trick riding at rodeos around the country. This year she plans to work at at least 40 rodeos.
Jessica Blair Fowlkes prepares her hair and make-up before the rodeo Friday, July 21, 2017, in her trailer in Lorin Farr Park behind the arena. When she isn't on the road, Blair Fowlkes lives in Western Kentucky.
Jessica Blair Fowlkes plays with her 13-month-old son, Wilder Fowlkes, outside of their trailer in Lorin Farr Park. Blair Fowlkes's mother travels with them in order to help with childcare.
Jessica Blair Fowlkes warms up her horse, Moose, on Friday, July 21, 2017, before performing at the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo. In recent years, Blair Fowlkes says she has seen many rodeos move away from including specialty acts.
Jessica Blair Fowlkes puts a shirt on her 13-month-old son, Wilder Fowlkes, before getting ready for the rodeo. Blair Fowlkes grew up on a beef farm surrounded by horses, but no one in her family did any sort of trick riding. After riding horses, dancing and cheering, Blair Fowlkes discovered she could combine all those interests in trick riding.
Wishbone and Moose, Jessica Blair Fowlkes's horses, rest before the start of their performance.
Jessica Blair Fowlkes and her husband, Preston Fowlkes, hang out beside their trailer before the start of the rodeo. Most weekends, Preston runs rodeos in the Southeast and isn't able to travel with Jessica, but he was able to make it for her first rodeo in Utah.
Jessica Blair Fowlkes and her husband, Preston Fowlkes, watch the arena as the final saddle bronc riders compete before her performance.
In the highlight of her performance, Jessica Blair Fowlkes leaps over a burning jump while standing atop her horses. After five nights of rodeo in Ogden, Blair Fowlkes will travel with her family to rodeos in Helena and Great Falls, Montana, before making the trip back to Kentucky.