- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

STAUNTON, Va. (AP) - Fairland Ferguson has spent the last six years of her life riding horses in front of crowds nightly.

Her performance would typically include a maneuver referred to as the “Under the Neck,” which would leave her swinging from underneath the horse’s neck until she swung back on the other side while the horse galloped as fast as possible past the cheering crowds - it was one of her favorite stunts.

When people see Ferguson perform, the first thing they notice is the tangle of wild red hair - a characteristic that makes her to stand out like a beacon when performing.

Now, after traveling with Cavalia - which she described as Cirque du Soleil with horses - Ferguson is using her talent for performance and showmanship to make her move into acting and modeling.

“I’m trying to start focusing more on modeling and acting,” Ferguson said. “Right now there are a few commercials that are in the works, but I’ve done some extra work on small movie projects.”

Ferguson, a Staunton native who lived in the same house from birth until her graduation from Robert E. Lee High School, started riding at 7 after begging her mother to let her ride.

It was the start of a career that she would later appreciate for allowing her to connect with audiences.

When she was in high school she dabbled in both English and Western riding, but found the freedom Western enabled was what she enjoyed most - the vibrant colors and push for individualism among the riders called to her.

But it wasn’t her time riding with her mother’s friend Brenda Simmons and her sons Kyle and Andy Simmons at Foxfield Farm that led to her becoming a well-known stunt rider, it was a job with Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, that got her into it.

“Brenda didn’t really give lessons,” Ferguson said. “I was just driving my mom crazy by asking and asking and asking. Somehow, my mom just started taking me out to the farm on Friday afternoons and Brenda started giving me lessons. I owe Brenda the world.”

While Ferguson was a student at Coastal Carolina University, where she played basketball and studied marine biology, she suffered a basketball career-ending injury from a fall off a cliff at Smith Mountain Lake.

Ferguson broke 46 bones total, but she didn’t let it affect her mentally.

After at least a year’s worth of recovery - six months healing and six months rehabbing - she found herself still riding.

It wasn’t until about a year after she graduated college that she auditioned for Cavalia in hopes of seeing the world.

And after six years of traveling the world, performing stunts that are dangerous to even the most skilled rider, Ferguson is ready to head in a different direction with her career.

“It’s about leaving Cavalia and getting away from more of the everyday performing and starting to get more into film and TV,” Ferguson said. “Horses will never not be a part of my life, I just kind of want a break from performing every day.”

While she’s redirecting her career, she still owns and rides her five horses that she also retired from Cavalia.

But in the meantime, Ferguson is preparing for a career in Hollywood, one that she plans to make as special as her time stunt riding.

“Maybe next time you talk to me, it’ll be because I just won a Golden Globe,” Ferguson said.

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Information from: The News Leader, https://www.newsleader.com

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