Faye Blackstone, rodeo trick rider, dies at 96


Faye Blackstone was elected to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. (COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL COWGIRL MUSEUM AND HALL OF FAME)
September 1, 2011

Faye Blackstone, a rodeo trick rider who was elected to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and was best known for her saddle-dangling signature move, the reverse fender drag, and who helped launch the career of country singer Reba McEntire, died Aug. 30 at a hospital in Bradenton, Fla.

She was 96 and had complications from cancer, said her great-niece Deanna Blackstone.

Mrs. Blackstone was 3 when she began riding horses on her family’s Nebraska ranch. She taught herself how to do tricks while riding her horse to school.

She and her late husband, Vic, a bow-legged bronc rider from Texas, married in 1937 on horseback in the center of a rodeo arena in Bladen, Neb. They performed on the rodeo circuit during the 1940s and ’50s. During that time, she also rode in a traveling show with Gene Autry and entertained crowds in New York’s Madison Square Garden and as far as Havana with her gymnastic feats.

Mrs. Blackstone could do headstands while her quarter horse galloped at full stride. She could drop down from the saddle, let her boots kick the arena dust and spin to the horse’s other side.

Diana Vela, the associate executive director of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, said that Mrs. Blackstone is credited with inventing three maneuvers: the flyaway, the ballerina and the reverse fender drag. For the latter, Mrs. Blackstone hung on to the lower left side of the saddle with her right leg and arm, extending her left leg and arm while her head bobbed by the horse’s haunches.

With the “horse going full speed,” Vela said, such a move required spectacular athleticism and a “great deal of horsemanship.”

Mrs. Blackstone said her innovations evolved because she was often among the last trick riders to perform at rodeos.

“You didn’t want to duplicate what they did,” she told the Tampa Tribune in 1989. “You wanted to do something special.”

Fayetta June Hudson was born June 3, 1915, in Diller, Neb. When she was 8, she watched as a female rider handled a bronco as the animal went berserk.

“The horse jumped over the fence and behind the grandstand,” Mrs. Blackstone told the Salt Lake Tribune in 1995. “She was riding that stuff with the greatest of ease. I thought, ‘Boy, I want to do that.’ ”

During the 1950s, the Blackstones settled outside Parrish, Fla., in Manatee County. There, Mrs. Blackstone and her husband arranged for the flame-haired daughter of some rodeo friends to get a spot performing at a local country fair in 1978. The young singer was Reba McEntire.

“That was my first big fair by myself,” McEntire told the Bradenton Herald in 2003. “It was huge to me.”

After Vic Blackstone retired in the early 1950s, he and Mrs. Blackstone worked cattle together on a sprawling ranch near their home. Mrs. Blackstone performed in rodeos into the 1960s.

Mrs. Blackstone was elected to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1982, and her husband was elected to the Rodeo Hall of Fame the same year. He died in 1987. Mrs. Blackstone has no immediate survivors.

Unlike many trick riders, Mrs. Blackstone and her husband had the practical knowledge necessary for managing a large cattle herd.

“They knew cattle and knew about forages and grass and how to run a ranch,” said Jim Strickland, a longtime friend of the Blackstones and a past president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. “Faye was kind of a bundle of dynamite. Small, fearless and red-haired.”

She once stood on top of an elephant’s back for a circus act.

She told the St. Petersburg Times in 2002 about the experience: “Every time it trumpeted, my knees knocked.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.