It’s a fact: Any rodeo worth its salt must have a rodeo queen. These glamorous gals serve as ambassadors of the sport, educators of the western lifestyle, representatives of the agricultural community, and role models. Rodeo queens are polished and poised, but it takes more than just beauty to earn the crown. Queens are judged on their personality, public speaking, and appearance, but they must also be exemplary riders and horsewomen. Horsemanship skills and knowledge are a big part of the competition. Serving as rodeo queen is a full time job, but it can change a young woman’s life.
The current Miss Rodeo Nevada is Makenzie McMurtrey. The 20-year-old native of Las Vegas was crowned in April. Since then she’s been traveling the state and the country as the face of Nevada’s rodeo community. In December, Makenzie will represent Nevada against dozens of other state rodeo queens for the coveted Miss Rodeo America title. A win there would take her on a whirlwind year-long national tour of rodeos, parades, and charity events – and earn her a generous scholarship for school. The last time a rodeo queen from Nevada won the national title was in 2005 (Selena Ulch from Sparks). Could Makenzie be the next Miss Rodeo America? We sat down with her to find out more about the road to rodeo royalty.
What is your horse background?
“I didn’t grow up around them, but I have a lot of cousins up in Utah and they have horses so I’d go up there and visit them every summer. They’d pony me around pretty much. I thought I was riding, but I really wasn’t! We didn’t really have the money to have horses growing up, but I always wanted that. I loved going to rodeos. I loved horses. When I got a little bit older I wanted to figure out a way to get into that. There’s a group here called Hugo’s Horsemanship and they do a lot of equine physical therapy with special needs kids, which my older sister is special needs. They taught me how to be a side walker and I’d hold onto kids while we were walking with the horses. So I’d help them and then I finally found some lessons and I started riding horses. I found a nice trainer and she kind of did a little bit of everything so it was really nice. She wasn’t strictly barrels or strictly roping – I wanted everything because I didn’t know what I wanted to do! So I rode all her horses and it took me a while to find a horse that I wanted. She helped me find my first horse, Mo, last year.
Tell us about your horse.
“I love him so much. He is a Paint and he is a white horse. I never wanted a white horse and I never wanted a Paint. I had a bad experience with Paints and I thought white horses were just messy all the time so I ended up getting both! (laughs) But I love him and I wouldn’t trade him for anything. Last year I was helping my trainer feed and water every weekend so I could just be there around the horses. I saw this white horse in this back lot. I went to go see him and he was just so scared. He was really friendly when you could get him to come to you, but it was just that the trust was not there. He was 16 but he really hadn’t been ridden we think. I bought him for super cheap because he had nothing underneath him. I got on him and I kicked him the first time and he just took off because he had no idea what I wanted him to do so I felt bad. It was a bit of a struggle because he was scared of everything. I’ve only fallen off him one time. I was trotting and he spooked and I knew I was going off so I just kind of bailed and then he saw me out of his eye and he spooked even more and threw me. I thought it was funny. My dad, who is not a horse person, thought I died. But I love him. I do a little bit of everything off him. I’ve gotten him where I wanted him to go.”
How did you get involved with Miss Rodeo Nevada?
“Growing up I wanted to be a rodeo queen. When I saw rodeos, you saw the rodeo queen. They’re just super pretty and they have so much bling on them… that’s so cool! (laughs) How much bling can you fit on a shirt? And their hair is just so poofy. I loved it! All the ones I’d meet, they were so kind and represented the rodeo so well and obviously it was something they loved. Rodeo was something I loved and horses was something I just had a passion for and so I thought, one day if I get a horse, if I’m able to do this, that’s what I’m going to do… and I did it!”
How did you become Miss Rodeo Nevada?
“It was really hard because I’d never held a title before so I had to do a lot of research. Most state queens have titles underneath their belt, either a county or a town. So I knew that was a risk going in. I didn’t really know much. My trainer knew nothing about rodeo queens so I said ‘you help me with the horsemanship part and I will figure out the rest.’ I rode every single one of her horses from her Arabians to her Thoroughbreds. Some difficult horses! I went to a rodeo queen clinic up in Wyoming and that helped me a lot. I met a lot of rodeo queens there and I met with a lot of past rodeo queens and they helped me to figure out what I had to do and how to prepare. A lot of studying.”
What are some of your duties as Miss Rodeo Nevada?
“I represent the PRCA – the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association – and Nevada. I go to all of our rodeos in Nevada. The Reno Rodeo was one of my first rodeos that I went to as Miss Rodeo Nevada, they announced me as the number one lady in rodeo in Nevada. I heard that going in and I was like that is so cool! I represent Nevada and I go to different states and represent my state at different rodeos. I go out and serve. I’m big on working with special needs kids because that’s how I started in horsemanship. I visited a school and helped plant flowers so that was really fun. I just love being with kids and going out and volunteering.”
What do you think makes Nevada’s horse community unique?“I think we’re not very standoffish. Other states are very much like we have our rodeo, you can show over there, we’re not going to mix with you guys. I think Nevada is very accepting of different disciplines. At our Horseman’s Park everything is done on the weekend so we’ll have a barrel race going on at the same time as a hunter jumper thing. So everyone kinda knows everybody in the horse world here, even if we have different disciplines. ”
Why do you think it is important to preserve rodeo history and culture?
“I think it’s dying slowly. Everybody used to ride horses and now people think horses are for people who know what they’re doing… but I didn’t know what I was doing! So anybody can do it. I think it’s what America was built on, is that western way of living and I think if we lose it, it wouldn’t be very nice. It would be a very different, and I think a very cold, way of living. The western atmosphere is very welcoming and very nice. I think it would be a very cold way to live without that history and lifestyle.”
What does the Miss Rodeo America pageant entail?
“It’s all the state representatives of rodeo that go run for Miss Rodeo America. So in December, it overlaps with [Wrangler National Finals Rodeo]. We all run for Miss Rodeo America for eight days and that’s very intense! It’s like the state pageants, so you have your horsemanship, you have your horsemanship interview, you have your personal interview, you have your speech, modeling. I’m looking forward to it.”
Are you nervous?
“Oh yeah. For sure. But I’m excited at the same time so it’s weighing out the nerves.”
What are you doing to train for the horsemanship portion?
“Riding a lot of horrible horses. (laughs) You don’t get to bring any of your own horses. You get draw horses and you have to do a reining pattern. Typically they’re horses that someone just found. (laughs) They’ve been ridden, but they’re just ranch horses. A lot of pick-up men horses. And you have to do multiple flying lead changes on them, a roll back, and a lot of things these horses have never done in their life. You’re just praying for the best and hopefully it’s not a hot horse that wants to just run out of control. You have to keep this horse in a showing position the whole time even though it’s a rodeo horse and it only likes one lead and it doesn’t want to do a sitting trot… It’ll be interesting. I’m actually excited for that part. Hopefully I don’t get a bad horse!”
What are your future goals?
“After this I’m going to go back to school. My plan is to go to nursing school. I’ll get a scholarship after this so that will help with a lot of that. Also keep riding, improve those skills. Maybe show a little bit. I’ve got my horse showing in English now.”
Do you have a message for our readers?
“As Miss Rodeo Nevada and as a Queen we always have a saying that we push each year and mine is be kind to everyone no matter what, so that’s been my motto for the year. And never give up. I didn’t come from a horsey background. I didn’t grow up on a ranch or a farm. But I wanted it so I made it happen. So never give up!”
Meet Mackenzie and wish her luck this winter! She has the following upcoming public events scheduled:
• September 1: Boot Barn, 7265 Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas
• September 5 & 6: Stagecoach Days and Rodeo, Banning, California
• September 25: Rotary Club of Las Vegas Summerlin
• October 27: Nevada Day Parade, Carson City (She’ll be riding in the Bonanza Casino Cadillac)
The Miss Rodeo America pageant will be held December 2 – 9 in Las Vegas. The horsemanship competition is open to the public and free to watch. Other public events include the contestant speeches, fashion show, Justin Boot parade, and coronation.
Story by Samantha Szesciorka
Photos Courtesy Miss Rodeo Nevada Association