(Note:  This is the original, unedited version of the article I wrote up regarding the horsemanship competition phase of the Miss Rodeo Colorado pageant that took place at the Greeley Stampede arena on June 29, 2016.  I was dissatisfied with the cutting and rewriting choices made by the editor of the magazine to which it was submitted, so I wanted to post my original story of the event for people to read.  MANY THANKS to all the Miss Rodeo Colorado contestants and committee members for making our experience in covering the event so enjoyable.)

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Miss Rodeo Colorado Contestants Horse Around – Copyright Lincoln Rogers, 2016

The personality and poise of each Miss Rodeo Colorado (MRC) is on full display during the two-hundred-fifty-plus days she spends on the road meeting and greeting fans of all ages, but a big part of how she becomes the state’s rodeo queen comes from her ability to ride.

Every year, the MRC competition is held during the Greeley Stampede, and all eight finalists vying to be 2017’s Colorado queen showed up bright and early on Wednesday, June 29th  to test their horsemanship skills inside the Stampede’s arena in front of a trio of judges who kept track from the stands.  Although horsemanship is just one part of the overall competition, Wednesday morning’s mounted tests were important to every MRC hopeful.

“Horsemanship (points are) equally weighted with personality and appearance points,” said Tami Inskeep, MRC Secretary and member of the executive committee.  “The only difference is you earn points in personality and appearance in every event (speeches, interviews, appearances, etc.) but you can only earn the horsemanship points during this specific event.”

To test their depth of equine skills, fresh horses were supplied by Colorado’s Sombrero Ranches and each contestant drew from a jar to discover which horse they would ride for the reining pattern section of the event.  It didn’t stop there, however.  The reining pattern section would be followed by a rail section of riding, similar to competing in a show ring, and each MRC hopeful was required to ride a different mount in that event.  The ability to ride new and different horses is an important part of being a rodeo queen.

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“For most rodeos, when the girls travel, they are not on their own horse,” Inskeep explained.  “So that is the point of having eight horses they have never seen in this competition.  They will be riding them for the first time today.”

The best way to discover what each contestant was thinking before the horsemanship competition was to ask the current Miss Rodeo Colorado, Madelaine Mills, about her experience in 2015.

“Coming up to the pageant, I practiced a lot,” said Mills.  “I rode as many horses as I could get on.  Here, these girls will get on horses they have never been on before, and as Miss Rodeo Colorado, that is pretty much what you do at every rodeo.  So these girls have been riding as many horses as they can get on.  Sombrero Ranches does a great job of bringing quality horses for these girls.  They had great horses for us, last year.”

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At the end of every participant’s reining pattern, they each rode to edge of the arena where the trio of judges was located.  Part of displaying horsemanship skill is dismounting and mounting, so the contestants would dismount and stand with their horse while they answered equine and tack related questions.  Handling questions and remaining poised while an unfamiliar horse nuzzles your hat or tries to walk away seemed to be part of the challenge.  After finishing the question and answer session, each contestant then mounted up and exited the arena on horseback.

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Shortly after the last contestant finished her reining pattern and follow up questions, it was time to get a new horse and get back inside the arena.  Only this time, four MRC hopefuls rode at the same time for the rail section of the event.  In a show ring style of riding, the contestants all walked, trotted or loped their horses at the request of the judges.  When the first four were finished, the final four contestants took their turn inside the arena to do the same thing.

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The horsemanship section then finished with a bang, as the contestants each galloped a fast Queen’s Run, smiling and waving, in front of the judges as the third and final ride of the event.  Several MRC hopefuls described the Queen’s Run as their favorite part of the event, and it was made even more exciting when contestant Mary Oulliber’s (Sedalia, CO) horse decided to buck and jump almost the entire way.  It couldn’t prevent her from smiling and waving, however.

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“I was really just trying to keep his head up so he couldn’t get it down and buck,” said Oulliber afterward.  “And then I had to end up going to two hands and say, no, we’re not doing this today, and then go back to waving.  It was interesting, but actually it was a lot of fun.”

All the contestants concurred with how much they enjoyed the morning’s competition.

“It was absolutely fantastic,” said Sara Coblentz of Gunnison, CO.  “I thought it was really a great opportunity for everybody to get to ride three different horses.”

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Everyone also agreed it was nerve-wracking.

“Yes!” they said in unison about being nervous throughout the morning.  The laughter among the group as they said it showed the camaraderie they developed over the last week.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Evergreen’s Sierra Knodle.  “I love all these ladies, so much.  It was really neat getting to ride with them, which, for most of us, is our favorite thing to do.  The horses were great and really well trained.  We’re really thankful they brought them today.”

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The horsemanship section was just one part of the Miss Rodeo Colorado pageant, which was slated to wrap up with a coronation of the 2017 queen on Friday, July 01, 2016.  You can find complete 2016 pageant results at the Miss Rodeo Colorado Facebook page

Story and Photos copyright Lincoln Rogers, 2016 – All rights reserved.

Results of competition after story went to press:

Winner to be 2017 Miss Rodeo Colorado:  Kelsie Winslow

1st Runner-up:  Sierra Knoble

2nd Runner-up:  Sara Coblentz