Twelve young ladies, all vying for one of four coveted positions on the 2010 Ramona Rodeo royal court, came together for the final decision Saturday evening.
Selected to represent the sport of professional rodeo, Ramona Rodeo and the community of Ramona are: Senior Queen Sally Jones, Junior Queen Brittney Phillips, Young Miss Bridgette LaHaye and Little Miss Farah Angel.
Earning the right to wear the sash and be declared queen is more than any single event. It is a culmination of scores in horsemanship, appearance, general rodeo knowledge test, personal interview with the judges and a speech given at the final event in the performing arts center at Olive Peirce Middle School.
The evening progressed through the personal biographies of the Little Miss contestants, through glimpses into the heritage of rodeo and through the longer essays of the Junior Queen and Senior Queen contestants.
According to Palomar College speech professor Brandon Whearty, public speaking is generally feared by more people than death. “They did a study,” said Whearty, “and public speaking was the number one fear, whereas death only ranked seventh. It appears as if most people would rather die than get up in front of a crowd to talk!”
The speech portion of the program demonstrated a contestant’s ability to get beyond this hurdle as well as showed a bit of the personalities as well. One such demonstration came through a question asked of Bridgett LaHaye: “If you could be Wonder Woman, Poison Ivy, Cat Woman or Batman, which superhero would you be and why?”
LaHaye didn’t miss a beat. “I would rather be Catwoman because, when it gets right down to it, I can really bring it to the table.”
The crowd roared as LaHaye punctuated the statement with a cross between a hiss and a meow as she gave the air a swipe with imaginary claws. Whether this little show of personality was the clincher or not, only the judges know — but LaHaye did go on to win the Young Miss title.
“It was unbelievable to me how close all the girls were all the way through the competition,” said one of the judges, Matt Deskovick. “There are so many scoring criteria that we give points for so many things it makes it pretty even. Really, the girls were so close, even the little bitty ones.”
Deskovick explained why the big difference between the younger contestants was difference in age and experience.
“Going back to the little bitty ones,” said Deskovick, “the age made the difference. Just being a little bit older and a little less shy gave her (Farah Angel) the edge. She only won by a small margin all the way through.”
In a life filled with wardrobe malfunctions and ornery critters, the skill among the riders became evident earlier in the day. The contestants gathered in the Fred Grand Arena at the Ramona Outdoor Community Center for the horsemanship phase of the competition Saturday morning.
Through the swirling dust and thunder of pounding hooves, rodeo queen hopefuls rode their hearts out to the beat of various music. Looks of intense concentration and nervous smiles could be noted on the youngest competitors. The more experienced competitors in the group could be overheard giving the jittery juniors last-minute advice and a quick pat of encouragement.
Riding in a fixed pattern to music chosen by each individual, the girls walked, trotted and galloped their equine counterparts in an effort to score high with the judges. The judges, Markie Battaglia (Miss Rodeo California), Emily Junk (Rodeo Queen, 2007) and Matt Deskovick (owner of Catt Farm & Ranch Supply and a professional steer wrestler) watched each contestant’s form, control of the horse and overall communication and responsiveness between horse and rider.
Smiling, waving, carrying a flag and staying on the horse while doing all of this is just a small part of the program. The senior queens are required to carry a flag as part of the competition, because that is part of what they do at the rodeos. If a queen cannot control the horse because the flag causes it to spook, points are deducted. Senior contestants also are required to change to a draw horse (a different horse/not their own) as part of evaluating overall ability. If the queen’s horse were to throw a shoe or get injured before performing at a show, the queen would need to then borrow a horse. So, judges take this portion into consideration as well.
Rehearsals began in January with classes in diction, poise, speech and general rodeo knowledge to prep the contestants with what is needed to perform well during judging.
“There is a workshop in every area to prepare the girls for the competition,” said pageant coordinator Jeanne Pyeatt. “It is an all-encompassing process that benefits the girls for the rest of their lives.”
A third grade participant from Barnett Elementary School said, “All the memorizing was the hardest.”
Jackie Kinch, 8, is a first-time contestant.
“My favorite part was hanging out with the other girls and making new friends,” she said.
Her mother Kristie supports the pageant wholeheartedly.
“It has really improved her horsemanship and relationship with her horse, she said. “She has been given so many different mentors through this program — the older girls, the ladies who run the program — everyone has been so supportive and encouraging for her. I would highly recommend this for any young lady.”
“This is such a great program,” said Sally Jones before she was crowned senior queen. “I have learned job skills, personal skills and a greater sense of confidence that I can take with me for the rest of my life. These girls are so kind and caring. It is not about looks or who’s got the greatest hair or clothes.”
According to Pyeatt, many of the former royalty return to mentor and help the girls. “They are so amazing. Even the ones that don’t win a title return to help and to tell me how much this program has done for them. They are wonderful girls.”
Exiting royalty said goodbyes and thanked all who had touched and helped them through the journey.
The 2010 royal court is beginning a year of travel, events and promotion of the sport of rodeo. There will be photo shoots for advertising and autograph sheets and the hundreds taken by fans. It will be surprising to the youngest winners just how much the children in the community look up to them, said 2009 Little Miss Emily Payne.
“I never realized how kids saw me as someone to look up to,” she said.
Rodeo queens, it seems, fit right in there next to Cinderella and other secret wishes of little girls who have ever witnessed a rodeo firsthand. Many contestants made comments on how watching a rodeo queen running the flag around the arena inspired them to compete. The fancy clothes, fast horse and excitement — what more could a little girl want?