CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks As part of the registration process, Miss Rodeo New Mexico pageant contestants Kelly Horton of Placitas, left, and Bethany Lauren Sweat of Nogal take a test Wednesday on rodeo knowledge and current events at the Days Inn.
By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
Maegan Ridley got a key to the city of Clovis on Wednesday night. She had a slice of cake and ice cream at the meet-and-greet function that followed. And she got to joke with audience members as she staged a mock media interview with girls who hope to one day claim her spot as Miss Rodeo America.
These are the easy nights for Ridley and New Mexico Rodeo Queen counterpart Brooklynn Chester. They’re followed by marathon days, long travel sessions and the knowledge that you’re representing not only yourself, but your state, your country and the sport of rodeo everywhere you go.
“I wear the hat and the sash and the crown everywhere I go,” said Ridley, whose smile matched the glow of her crown at Wednesday’s final Pioneer Days event. “I’m an absolute disaster at the airport (security line).”
There are the positives, said Ridley, of Alta Loma, Calif., like the people intrigued by her flashy Wrangler-sponsored rodeo wear and cuisine that ranges from green chili enchiladas in New Mexico to fried lobster and alligator in other states.
She’s not the only one making the cross-country experience, as Chester can attest. A 2004 graduate of Carlsbad High School, Chester is serving as this year’s Miss Rodeo New Mexico but makes appearances at rodeos in numerous states.
To get the honor, Chester said, she had to prove herself in a media interview session like the one demonstrated Wednesday, prove her ability to ride a horse, answer various rodeo knowledge and handle a short interview with judges, who pretty much set the ground rules for what a state rodeo queen should be.
“You answer any question they can throw at you,” Chester said. “You hope for the open-ended (question).”
At the national level, that competition steps up, Ridley said. Contestants are sequestered in hotel rooms all week, without family, friends or cell phones. Days start at 7 a.m. (at the latest) and end at midnight (at the earliest). They ride two horses they’ve never rode before for horsemanship, do a series of personal interviews, and a media interview long enough to edit into a documentary.
The winner is a celebrity for the next year, promoting the sport of rodeo to friendly crowds at Wednesday’s event to a room full of grade-schoolers who’ve never seen a live farm animal alike.
“Most people are receptive to rodeo because it’s a good sport for the whole family,” Ridley said. “You can bring your 2-month-old baby, you can bring your 97-year-old grandmother.”
With the crown come the honors, and the responsibilities. Ridley figures she’ll log 100,000 miles traveling to 30 to 40 rodeos this year, and she’s rodeo’s greatest representative at about 350 more events like Wednesday’s kickoff barbecue and Wednesday’s nightcap at the ballroom of the Days Inn.
But she enjoys the challenge of treating event No. 5 like event No. 305.
“I travel from a community’s most important event of the year,” Ridley said, “to another community’s most important event of the year.”
And, when you’re trying to get to that point, Kassi Huysman said, every day matters. Huysman is the 2009 Curry County Pioneer Days Rodeo Queen, and she’s competing to take over for Chester this week, as the competition takes place concurrent with Pioneer Days.
While Huysman preps for the state competition, she said the key piece of wisdom she wanted to impart to future Pioneers Days competitors is that you carry your history growing up in Clovis, whether it helps or hurts.
“People think you just get judged when you’re in the sash and hat,” Huysman said. “But it’s at Wal-Mart. It’s at the movie theater. You are judged everywhere you go.”