•Harrison is the rodeo clown for the 101st Clovis Rodeo
•The cowboys live and work from their trailers parked at the rodeo grounds
J J Harrison might be the most recognized guy at the Clovis Rodeo.
Weaving his way through the cramped metal chutes just off the arena, he stops often to shake hands or wave to old acquaintances. He seems to know every cowboy.
“That’s Rich Skelton. He’s one of the winningest team ropers in the world,” says Harrison, who will be in front of fans all weekend as the barrelman (aka “clown”) for the 101st Clovis Rodeo.
Fans will recognize Harrison by his face paint and fringed shorts, and the blue Nikes he wears in place of cowboy boots. Oh, and for his overall “goofiness.”
“I’ve always been a clown,” says the ex-teacher with a master’s degree in education.
This is Harrison’s third year at the Clovis Rodeo. Even before it starts, he is out in front of people as the face and voice of rodeo life, doing school assemblies and media spots.
“The American cowboy has evolved into an American athlete. We all know that we’ve got to promote rodeo,” he says.
Behind him, at a makeshift photo studio just off the arena, cowboys stop to get pictures taken. While audiences are drawn by action and the competition of the rodeo, they may not get the full picture of what it takes for cowboys to compete, Harrison says.
“What you don’t see is the 17- to 20-hour drives,” he says.
Two days from the main events, the rodeo grounds fill up with full-size pickups and white horse trailers, motor homes and even semi-trucks, which have become more popular with cowboys who trek 75,000 miles in a year. This is where many of the cowboys will live, sleep and work for the next week.
Some — like Travis Woodward — even bring their families.
Woodward, wife Rachel and 23-month-old son Wyatt drove in from Stephenville, Texas, competing in rodeos along the way. They make the trek each year and use it as an excuse to visit family in Lodi. They’ve been in town since the start of the week and hope to stay here until Sunday.
All the cowboys hope to make it to Sunday finals.
It is a routine that Harrison knows all too well. After the Clovis Rodeo, he is headed to Washington. He will be on the road doing rodeos for the next six months. He is booked every weekend through October, when he will have one week off, if he remembers right. The first thing he does in every town is grab the newspaper so he can get a sense of the locals and have something to use in his routine.
Harrison doesn’t have many friends back home, he says. He doesn’t mind because his friends are out here, at the rodeo.
“The camaraderie of the American cowboy is probably one of its best qualities,” he says.