I’ve covered the Miss Rodeo America Pageant in different ways through the years, but not midstream in the heat of battle…until now.
In years past, I have interviewed contestants at the kickoff dinner or at the coronation ceremony after the competition was complete, but I had never stepped inside the pageant while it was going on. So, I decided to head over to the Wrangler Rodeo Arena at Cowboy FanFest inside the Las Vegas Convention Center to take in the horsemanship competition on Sunday morning.
The 28 contestants, all age 19-25, have been keeping a brutal pace since Monday when the pageant began, so they were having to dig deep during the challenging horsemanship competition. After a blind draw to determine which horse they will ride, each participant is required to complete a set pattern in the arena.
They trotted, galloped and maneuvered their mounts through a specific pattern as best they could – often times with the horse acting up and challenging them. Then, another blind draw set them up for the freestyle portion, where they had 90 seconds to show their skills on their horse.
Miss Rodeo Louisiana Shelby Kadrovich was happy with her performance and her draw after the set pattern portion of the competition.
“These horses are a great string of horses, and they’re all very capable of doing the pattern,” Kadrovich said. “It’s a blessing that we have such a good string of horses. I was very excited, because I got the only mare out of all the horses, and I’d seen her run a couple of times at the RNCFR. This was my first time to ride her, and she was great.”
Some steeds, however, tested the queens’ mettle and skills.
“My horse was a challenging horse, and the first girl who rode him had a little difficulty,” Miss Rodeo Nebraska Samantha Chytka said. “So, I went out there, bared down and think I did the best with what I drew. Everyone wants to be known as the horsewoman, so you want to go out, put your best foot forward and show people you can ride.”
Miss Rodeo Minnesota Sarah Nowacki was really tested with her horse, narrowly avoiding a spill.
“We had a little mishap, but I kept my cool and continued on with my pattern and feel like I finished it really strong,” Nowacki said.
Miss Rodeo Arizona Brittney Truman relished the chance to show her skills in the horsemanship competition, even if things didn’t completely go as planned.
“This is my favorite part, the horsemanship,” Truman said. “This is where I feel at home. All these horses are great horses, but it’s the luck of the draw.
“My pattern went all right. There’s definitely things that could have gone smoother, but that’s rodeo for you.”
The horsemanship competition was the last big measuring stick before Monday’s midday coronation ceremony, which will crown Miss Rodeo America 2014. The pageant contestants were using adrenaline to push through the horsemanship battle, as the weeklong competition has done a number on the beauties.
“It’s long hours, but they make sure we get our naps in, whether it’s on the bus going back to the hotel or between dance rehearsals,” Kadrovich said.
The ladies have bonded through the week, as is accustomed to happen, and they have leaned on each other when needed.
“This week has been a wild roller-coaster,” Truman said. “We’ve been so busy and have so much fun. It’s been great. We travel all year together as a group of state queens, so for all of us to be able to share this experience together has just been awesome.”
The state queens have formed a sorority of sorts along the way.
“It’s been a fantastic week, and we have a great group of girls,” Kadrovich said. “We’re all like best friends, so it’s not as nerve-racking because you have a best friend standing next to you going through it with you.”
Nowacki will remember the experience forever.
“It’s been an experience of a lifetime, and I’ve been having a blast,” she said. “No matter what happens at the end of this, I’ll be really excited for whoever wins. It’s been great hanging out with my friends one last time.
“Being Miss Rodeo Minnesota at the WNFR has been just such a blessing for my life.”
Chytka admitted the pageant has been a unique event for her.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “I am kind of out of my comfort zone. I was a goat tier, and I didn’t really do any rodeo queen pageants. This is only my second one, so I’m just trying to get in the swing of things.
“I love the sport of rodeo, and this is just a different side of it. It’s tough, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Miss Rodeo America 2013 Chenae Shiner was on-hand for the competition and even rode a pattern of her own. She said she greatly prefers watching the battle for the crown than going through the gauntlet of challenging for it like she did last year.
“I have to say, I like it a lot better on this side of the fence than on the contestants’ side,” Shiner said. “You’re a lot more relaxed and don’t have the nerves going, although I think I maybe get less sleep than they do because they keep me pretty busy out here.”
She’s been at most of the MRA Pageant events this past week, offering support and advice for the contestants.
“I try to help them along and tell them they’re doing fine,” Shiner said. “It’s so fun to be here and to be back as Miss Rodeo America and to be there for the girls. You know exactly what they’re going through and exactly what they’re feeling, and I’ve become friends with all of them, and I love them.
“They’ve all had an amazing contest and are absolutely shining. I couldn’t be more proud of every single one of them.”
Shiner has thoroughly enjoyed her reign as the sport’s top ambassador.
“It’s been a dream come true,” she said. “It’s like you get your dream job and for a year you get to do everything you’ve ever dreamed of or wanted to do. I’ve gotten to travel across the country, meet amazing people and, best of all, represent the sport of rodeo.”
Tomorrow, she will have to pass the crown to another as her time as MRA comes to an end.
“It’s going to be bittersweet to give up the crown, but it’ll be good to see another girl come up and take over,” Shiner said. “Whoever wins is going to have an amazing year.”