Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Riding on tradition — Fowler family doesn't hold their horses on summer competition


Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

Competitors at the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds are accustomed to it by now: the surname “Fowler” showing up at or near the top of the standings for barrel racing and pole-bending. Such was the case during the recent Soldotna Progress Days Rodeo on July 26 and 27, in which members of the Fowler clan captured two of the top three spots in each of their events.

It was a typical conclusion for the Fowlers, of Soldotna, who dedicate their summers to rodeo and keep their participation a family affair.

The Fowlers’ immediate family is father, Glenn, who once rode bulls until a serious neck injury restricted him to trail riding; mother, Beth, who has been a member of the Soldotna Equestrian Association for 31 years, since she was 13; daughters, Chelsey, 25, and Mellissa, 23; and son, Jacob, 18.

Their local extended rodeo family includes Jacob’s aunt, Garnet Sarks, and her two sons, and Chelsey’s two daughters. Among them all, there are nine horses, six of which belong to the Fowlers.

The Fowler stock are “all-around horses,” Jacob said. “They do anything. I mean, they jump, they team-pen, barrel race, trail ride. My mom’s philosophy is, ‘It’s not a good horse unless it can do it all.’”

As members of the SEA, the Fowlers participate in weekend rodeos, roping night on Tuesdays, National Barrel Horse Association night on Wednesdays, and team-penning night on Thursdays. And, of course, they work together to feed and care for their animals.

The SEA, the most active rodeo organization in the state, according to Beth, specializes in bringing families together. Eighty-one families belong to the association, comprising about 180 individual competitors.

Jacob, who graduated from Skyview High School this spring, said that after each hectic school year — Beth is the attendance secretary at Skyview, while Glenn halts his dirt-hauling business to plow snow — the whole family zeroes in on another rodeo season.

“During the summertime we’re all together every single day,” said Jacob, who works summers for his father. “In the school year, I might see my dad, you know, 10 minutes before everybody’s going to bed because he’s getting in so late from plowing. Barely see the girls because they’re working, and they never see me because I go to school all day and work till nine o’clock at night. I get home and they’re going to bed.”

During the rodeo season, the Fowlers blend into a unit. Even their riding styles and expressions are strikingly similar.

Leading his 11-year-old Appaloosa mare, Reo, through the pole-bending event last week, Jacob, like the other Fowlers, was a study in concentration: eyes set straight ahead under the brim of his black felt Stetson, his lips slightly pursed but otherwise impassive.

The result of this concentration was a first-place finish in the event, plus a third-place finish in barrel racing. He finished two slots ahead of his mother, Beth, in poles, and one slot behind his sister, Mellissa, in barrels.

Despite the fact that all the Fowlers compete in the same events, Jacob said the competition among them is mild.

“It’s not as bad as you think,” he said. “We all talk about it before we go on a run, and, like, the plan’s always one, two and three. I’d rather my sister beat me than anybody else.”

Like his sisters, Jacob has been competing since he was knee-high to a roping horse. Since he has been involved in barrel racing, he has qualified nine times for the NBHA World Finals in Augusta, Ga., but he hasn’t gone because of the costs and the inability to take his own horses such a great distance. He said he could rent a horse for the occasion, but he has no desire to do so.

“Our family kinda feels like that’s not the horse that got you there, so it’s not that fair for you to be there, either,” he said. “Your horse got you there, so you should wait till you can take yours down.”

Beth has qualified for the World Finals 10 times, and Mellissa and Chelsey have each qualified 11 times.

Although he won’t be making the trip to Georgia, later this fall Jacob will be traveling south for college at Arkansas State, in Jonesboro, where he plans to pursue a law degree. While there, he’ll test the college rodeo scene and decide before his sophomore year whether to drive his own horses down to compete.

“They don’t usually let freshmen compete right away because they get too far behind on their grades, they say. They’ll let ’em come in and practice, but they don’t let ’em compete until sophomore year,” he said.

When the ASU school year ends, Jacob plans to return to Soldotna to work again with his father and, of course, enjoy another season of local rodeo with the rest of his family.

Progress Days Peninsula Cowboy Round-Up Series Family Rodeo No. 4
Presented by Soldotna Equestrian Association

0-10 Barrels
1. Dalton McWhorter; 2. Luke Sarks; 3. McKenzie Schjoll.

0-10 Poles
1. Dalton McWhorter; 2. Luke Sarks ; 3. McKenzie Schjoll.

Calf Riding
1. Hunter Tate; 2. Luke Sarks, Brock Sarky, Ty;er Schjoll (three-way tie).

11-16 Barrels
1. n/a; 2. n/a; 3. n/a.

11-16 Poles
1. n/a; 2. n/a; 3. Alexis Sorrels.

Junior bulls
1. Bill Ashwell; 2. Jesse Kitson.

17 and up barrels
1. Tera Schnable; 2. Mellissa Fowler; 3. Jake Fowler.

17 and up poles
1. Jake Fowler; 2. Katie Schollenberg; 3. Beth Fowler.

Breakaway roping
1. Jan Feller.

Team roping
1. Stephen Primera and Justin Rainwater; 2. Charlie Willis and Steve Cook; 3. Stephen Primera and Mike Blore.

Ribbon roping
1. Justin Rainwater and Corey Wilkinson; 2. Jan Feller and Evan Bitterich; 3. Scooter and Chelsey Hackett.

Double mugging
1. Scooter Hackett and Justin Rainwater.

Bull riding
1. Kenny Hackett; 2. Matt Cleaves; 3. Lance Rowe.

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