She’s not horsin’ aroun’
LAKE CITY – While it’s not uncommon for state championship football players and record-shattering high school track stars to earn athletic scholarships, Jordanne Blair, of Lake City, has also been able to pay for college, thanks to an equine scholarship to South Dakota State University.
“When I was looking at colleges, I was interested in schools where I could rodeo,” said Blair, 23, a 2005 Southern Cal High School graduate, who recently earned her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from SDSU. “There’s not a lot of scholarship money available for that, but I was fortunate to receive a very sizeable four-year scholarship to compete with the equestrian team at SDSU.”
An emerging sport in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, equestrian sports are offering richer scholarships than ever before to attract top talent. SDSU’s Division I program includes members on the Western and English teams. The program has grown tremendously in the past four years, said Blair, a Western competitor, who noted that there were 20 girls on the school’s new equestrian team when she started. There were 40 by the time she graduated in May of 2009.
The personal growth that Blair has achieved during her college career is also noteworthy, according to associate head coach Joe Humphrey.
“I’ve always been impressed by Jordanne’s willingness to work, her dedication to the team and her commitment to improving her skills. She’s a natural leader who is both self-reliant and concerned about others, and I know she’ll do well as she moves on from SDSU.”
Riding for rodeo royalty
Blair’s passion for all things equine started at age nine, when she received a little paint pony named Princess.
“Mom always thought I’d grow out of this phase, but I never did,” said Blair, who sold her collection of Beanie Baby stuffed toys to help pay for a quarter horse named Britches, who is now 21 years old and still lives on the Blair farm east of Lake City.
Although Blair never had a trainer and only took a few English riding lessons, she spent most of her free time riding so she could improve her equestrian skills. In high school she quit the volleyball team so she would have more time to devote to her favorite hobby. She also became a barrel racer and added a barrel horse, Sammy, to her stable.
“I rode day and night, and in the summer Mom and I would be gone nearly every weekend when I competed in high school rodeos, from Moville to Fort Madison to Osceola,” said Blair, who is the daughter of Lee and Joanne Blair.
Her equestrian skills weren’t limited to barrel racing. In 2002, she was named Clay County Fair Supreme Grand Champion Overall, winning showmanship, horsemanship, English pleasure, English equitation and walk trot. In 2004, she was named the Ak-Sar-Ben champion in English equitation in the senior division and took reserve honors in the English pleasure category.
Blair also earned the State Fair FFA 2006 reserve high point overall award, winning the competitions in barrel racing, horsemanship, English equitation and English pleasure, in addition to achieving other noteworthy accomplishments in showmanship and trail and western pleasure.
Each category requires a distinct skill set.
“In horsemanship, for example, the judges are watching your body position,” she explained. “Your heels, back and head must all be in line, your chin should be up, and your eyes must be looking forward,” said Blair, who joined the ranks of rodeo royalty when she was named Miss Teen Rodeo Iowa in 2004 and was crowned the Iowa High School Rodeo Queen in 2005.
“The judges are also watching how you perform the pattern that you ride, because it needs to be correct and precise.”
Equine teams travels the nation
This dedication to excellence helped Blair develop the discipline and horsemanship skills that would set her apart at the collegiate level. In addition to the two to three practices that are scheduled around classes each week for SDSU equestrian team members, the girls are also required to work out twice a week. They complete a regiment that includes two-mile runs, aerobic training and weight-lifting exercises to strengthen the muscles of the legs, arms and abdominals. The girls also attend weekly team meetings and help with barn chores.
While some team members bring their own horses to the SDSU equine facility, the girls ride a different horse each time they practice. This helps prepare them for collegiate matches, where team members draw a horse’s name out of a hat and watch the animal warm up, but only have five minutes to work with the horse before competing. During her four years at SDSU, Blair repeated this drill time after time in competitions at Delaware State University, the University of South Carolina, New Mexico State University, Fresno State University and many other universities.
“We travel a lot, and unlike other sports, we’re always practicing throughout the year,” said Blair, who maintained a 3.378 grade point average and competed in the NCAA nationals in Waco, Texas, shortly before completing her college career.
Now that she has graduated, Blair has set her sights on the Miss Rodeo Iowa competition, which she plans to enter this September in Forty Madison. She will compete in public speaking, modeling and horsemanship, in addition to participating in an interview and completing an extensive test to judge her equine and rodeo knowledge.
If she wins the Iowa title, she will compete in the Miss Rodeo America pageant, which promotes the sport of professional rodeo and the western way of life.
“I just love horses and I thank God for giving me the ability to ride and compete,” Blair said.
Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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