Rodeo queen clinic builds poise

Jason Ferguson
For the better part of five months, COVID-19 has done nothing but take from people.
Last Thursday in Hermosa, however, it created a once-in-a-lifetime experience for 10 young cowgirls.
That’s because last Thursday afternoon, Miss Rodeo South Dakota, Miss Rodeo America and a former Miss Rodeo South Dakota were all on hand at Custer County Fairgrounds for a youth rodeo queen clinic to share life advice, build confidence and give horsemanship pointers at a time when, if not for COVID-19, one or all of them may have been busy with rodeo or other queen obligations.
Tracy Heitsch of Hermosa, who is heavily involved in 4-H, helped organize the event. She said the idea was born out of feedback from 4-H judges who said, while Custer County 4-H members are strong in interviewing and public speaking, their horsemanship needs work. In addition, each year, along with the annual Southwest Dakota 4-H Rodeo held in Hermosa, there is an ambassador contest, which is essentially a rodeo queen contest.
With the gathered feedback, a horsemanship contest was considered before COVID-19 hit. That’s when the wheels started to turn. Miss Rodeo South Dakota, Martina Loobey, is a Sturgis resident. Miss Rodeo America, Jordan Tierney, is from Oral. They are local and likely not busy with the pandemic happening.
They agreed to volunteer their time for the clinic and were joined by Sorrel Muscat of Wall, Miss Rodeo South Dakota 2006.
“They were so fantastic to volunteer their time and talents and give back to the youth of our area,” Heitsch said.
Their titles aren’t their only credentials. Muscat won the horsemanship contest at the 2006 Miss Rodeo America competition, meaning the experience the group was bringing in an area of need was a perfect match.
Ten girls ages 8 to 17 attended the event, which was held for four hours in the afternoon. Girls came from Spearfish, Custer, Sturgis, Newell and Rapid City, along with Hermosa.
The day started with all the girls on their horses and Muscat in the middle of the fairgrounds arena with a microphone, with Tierney and Loobey also on horseback. The group worked with the girls on walking their horses, trotting, reversing course, etc., helping them gain a feel for different levels of ridership. After that, the girls were lined up along the fence and did more horse work, including marching, circles, right lead, left lead, working on body positioning, etc.
As contestants get older, queen competitions get more challenging, including having to ride unfamiliar horses. Perhaps the most impressive part of the clinic was when Tierney climbed aboard a roping horse at the fairgrounds — a horse that had never done those types of moves — and within five minutes had the horse doing queen moves without verbal cues. She used only body positioning, lower-leg control and hand positioning to get the horse to do what she wanted it to.
“It was a great confidence builder for the girls,” said Heitsch, who said everyone can struggle with even their own horse from time to time. 
“She’s a cowgirl, no doubt about it,” said Heitsch.
After that demonstration Tierney took the 8- and 9- year-olds to one end of the arena for individual coaching, while Loobey took the rest of the girls for individual work on horse positioning, posture and other things the judges look for in a horsemanship competition.
From there, things progressed indoors, where the clinicians gave the girls tips on giving both prepared and impromptu speeches. That included how to open and close a speech strong and bullet points for the middle of a speech, even when you haven’t had much time to prepare for the speech. Preparation is key, the girls were told.
The women also discussed interviewing skills and how to present oneself with confidence, along with clothing, makeup, hair, photography and other facets that come with modeling, which is part and parcel of being a rodeo queen.
What is frequently the most intimidating part for the queens—modeling—included a demonstration on how to turn and walk during a competition.
The girls were also told how the real work begins once the crown and sash are put on, including being a liaison between the cowboys, sponsors, spectators and rodeo committees. Rodeo queens are an ambassador for the sport of rodeo, as well as for sponsors, without whom there would be no rodeos.
Current events were covered as well, and the girls and clinicians were given gift bags when the day ended.
Heitsch said she has received a bevy of texts and emails about how great the clinic was and how much both parents and children enjoyed it. She said the clinicians enjoyed the experience, as well, and took a “lemon situation” of things being shut down or limited due to COVID and made it into lemonade by working with the children.
“It was much better than I expected,” Heitsch said, noting it’s the first year it was done. “Our goal was to have the girls take away one or two things from the experience. They said they learned so much.”
Heitsch praised the Custer County Fair Board for its work in having the grounds ready for the clinic, as well as the Southwest Dakota Rodeo Committee and Cindy Wilk, national director of Miss Rodeo South Dakota, who also helped with organizing the event.
Heitsch also praised the girls who came, saying it took courage to come outside of their comfort zone to attempt to learn the techniques. She said she could see the sprout in confidence in the girls when the clinic was over.
“They were walking a bit taller and their smiles were a bit bigger,” she said. “That’s what it’s about—building confidence in those ladies.”

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