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July 30, 2014

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Kats Goes Cowboy: Miss Rodeo America comfortable with strangers — human or equine

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Miss Rodeo New Mexico Kelly Horton, left, and Miss Rodeo Texas Celesta Harvey practice backstage as they rehearse for the Miss Rodeo America Pageant on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010.

A conversation between a novice Miss Rodeo America Pageant observer and someone who is not:

Miss Rodeo America Rehearsals

Miss Rodeo Arizona Kasey Jo Painter waits for her cue as she rehearses for the Miss Rodeo America Pageant on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Miss Rodeo America Pageant

The 56th Annual Miss Rodeo America Pageant is officially underway, with 28 cowgirls ages 19 to 25 competing in horsemanship, appearance, knowledge and personality. John Katsilometes of Kats Goes Cowboy/Las Vegas Sun talks to three of the contestants about pageants, rodeo attire and Las Vegas. Miss Rodeo America 2010 Kelli Jackson of Eupora, Miss., crowns her successor Saturday, Dec. 4, in The Orleans Showroom. The pageant is a prelude to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center through Dec. 11.

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Miss Rodeo Arizona Kasey Jo Painter waits for her cue as she rehearses for the Miss Rodeo America Pageant on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010.

Click to enlarge photo

Miss Rodeo Arizona Kasey Jo Painter applies lip gloss while taking a break in rehearsal for the Miss Rodeo America Pageant on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010.

“Is there a talent competition?”

“Yes. Horsemanship.”

“I mean, what are the other talents?”

“Horsemanship is the talent.”

“Oh.”

So, nobody in this pageant will be singing “My Heart Will Go On” at Saturday’s Miss Rodeo America Pageant at The Orleans. Bookmark that.

It does make sense that working with an equine would be paramount in the competition to name the pageant winner for the National Finals Rodeo every year. The horsemanship competition is already done and gone, having been held Monday at South Point Equestrian Center (where rodeo is not just a sport -- it’s a way of life).

It’s a demanding competition, this horsemanship showcase. It could well be its own rodeo event. In the horsemanship competition, contestants draw for and are delivered two horses provided by a major stock contractor. The young women, ages 19 to 25, have never worked with these horses before. They are genuine equine strangers. The contestants first settle the beasts, climb aboard, kick their heels and race through a pair of courses on a pattern -- set by the judges, another a “freestyle” pattern determined by the rider.

For comparison, it would be like entering a dance contest and being paired with someone you’ve never met -- and that someone is actually a horse.

The importance of horsemanship was relayed by Miss Rodeo Missouri contestant Erin Watts, who during Wednesday’s rehearsal talked of once being thrown from a horse -- while performing in the grand entry of a rodeo event.

She was hoisting the American flag at the time.

“I dusted myself off and got back on the horse,” Watts said during a videotaped interview at The Orleans Showroom, where at 1 p.m. Saturday the woman who will supplant Kelli Jackson as Miss Rodeo America will be crowned.

But for these women, the majority of whom have spent substantial time on ranches learning the craft, the pageant is not merely restricted to handling horses. The contestants also are judged on appearance and personality, which they all seem to possess in abundance. They recite prepared speeches and on Wednesday were paced through the interview process.

There will be production numbers, too, the hallmark of any pageant production, scenes punctuated by dancing, whip-cracking and rope-spinning.

It’s a national contest, but the entire country is not represented. Twenty-eight states are represented. In case you’re interested, and I certainly am, the 22 states that either don’t have Miss Rodeo America state organizations or are not participating this year are: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and West Virginia.

As the Miss Rodeo America Web site notes, any state interested in joining is welcome to do so. It’s an all-inclusive showcase, even for states (say, New Jersey) not famous for producing rodeo stars.

Similar to the Miss America winner, the woman crowned Miss Rodeo America will be awarded scholarship money, $20,000 in this case, to be delivered to the institution of her choice. As one former contestant said Wednesday, “The pageant changed my life. After that, every time I went into a job interview, I was confident.”

And knowing how to handle a horse can only impress your future boss.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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