Queens of the West
They have the gift of grit, gab and glamour. They proudly carry the flag and they are guided by the Cowboy Code. They are legend. They are emulated. They are the ambassadors of rodeo.
Photography: Kendall Nelson
(page 3 of 3)
Miss Rodeo America
But when it comes to selecting a rodeo queen, here’s where the wheat separates from the chaff.
“For more than 50 years, Miss Rodeo America has traveled the length and the breadth of our country, promoting and representing the great sport of professional rodeo and the Western way of life . . .” transcript from the website of Miss Rodeo America
While they clearly are the beauties of the rodeo circuit, these young women don’t get their titles by mere looks, marriage, birthright, or battle, but they do get them through bone-busting rides, book study, and passion. They are expected to be beauties with brains who are proud of their country roots. They are genuine cowgirls.
“She is a cowgirl, an athlete and a gifted communicator who knows her sport and works diligently to raise the awareness level of professional rodeo and its related industries . . .”
While there are any number of events and hometown rodeos where local girls and young women can vie for the honor of queen—just as local boys can participate in the riding and timed events—there is also a separate group that takes a more professional and long-term approach to “queening.” These contestants have the ultimate goal of “Miss Rodeo America.”
The ideal Western-type girl
For those fully committed to being a rodeo queen, time is what they must spend the most of. To remain in the top ranks of local, regional, and state competition takes miles in the saddle, travel, and self-education.
“Miss Rodeo America is the ideal Western-type girl who, with great enthusiasm, takes to heart the job of representing America’s number one sport . . .”
Here is a brief rundown on the weeklong competition for Miss Rodeo America and the minimum requirement rules for all state and local contests:
Contestants are judged equally in three categories: appearance, personality, and horsemanship. The scores from a contestant’s speech presentation, photogenic judging, interviews, extemporaneous questions, introductions, and fashion show presentation are also included.
The horsemanship competition is a vital part of the Miss Rodeo America Pageant. Miss Rodeo America is introduced during professional rodeo performances, rides horseback in parades, and makes countless appearances where she is expected to ride an American quarter horse. During each of the two rounds of competition, the contestants draw for the horses they will compete on. These horses belong to rodeo stock contractors and are unfamiliar to the contestants.
In the appearance category, (supposedly this is not a beauty contest, but good looks don’t hurt) contestants should be aware of what is fashionable Western dress and should be knowledgeable on current trends in the Western wear industry. Other considerations are attractiveness and grooming. Meticulous care and grooming in every detail is essential for a young woman to be considered for the title.
Common sense, charm, and a good seat in the saddle
Intelligence and common sense are big factors in the personality division. Education and conversational ability in professional rodeo current events and other areas are vital, with special emphasis on grammar and enunciation. A contestant should radiate self-confidence, showing maturity, high moral standards, sincerity, and integrity. Contestants should have the ability to project their personality, whether from horseback in an arena, on television, or before an audience. Also considered are a sense of humor, showmanship, ambition, desire, enthusiasm, and a happy outlook on life in general.
Whew! And all a cowboy has to do is stay on an enraged bull for eight seconds!
Gathering from the above (which is just the bare-bones, black-and-white version without the myriad subtleties) it’s possible to get a small idea of what goes into the making of a rodeo queen.
Bad food, doing makeup in a pickup mirror, and sharing cheap rooms are a few more “bennies” of the circuit. But don’t underestimate the dangers of the sport.
Constantly working around horses and other stock, riding in noisy parades on poor footing, taking those fast circuits of the rodeo arenas in less than perfect conditions. It’s all part of the game and like many of their cowboy compatriots in the sport, the queen often “rides hurt.”
It’s about prizes . . . and pride
So what’s in it for these young women? What are the rewards? Some are obvious, like scholarships, horse trailers and tack, clothing, possible modeling contracts, and national recognition. All of these are worthy and tangible rewards, but nothing that any young woman with the drive and perseverance to spend 10 years in any endeavor, could not acquire for herself. As contestants, these women have learned to articulate and project themselves onto the public consciousness. And there is not much talk of the material gains or rewards. Instead, conversations are laden with meaningful descriptions. “Pride,” “perseverance,” “friendships,” all good words and true; and almost always combined with that most basic of human aspirations, “a sense of belonging.”
So now . . . at the end of 10 years what does the mirror reveal? The awkward young girl is long gone, and in her place, refined by years of hard work, defined by steadiness of purpose, stands a fully-formed young woman. Poised, physically fit, and confident. Ready to accept the responsibility of representing herself, her sport, and her way of life, to the world.
Clarence Stilwill is not ashamed to say he is devoted to his wife, business partner, and best friend Tona, with whom he created, and runs, a successful organic farming business in Camas County. When he is not farming, he reads, writes for his own enjoyment and edification, and “when I can be bullied into it by threatening editors,” writes for magazines.