Rodeo Queen camp at Waterville

Rodeo Queen University campers applaud a presentation of one of their fellow campers. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

 

By Karen Larsen
Empire Press Correspondent

This was a big year for Rodeo Queen University, held for the past five years at the NCW Fairgrounds. For the first time ever, the group had both Miss Rodeo USA and Miss Rodeo America present to instruct girls and young women interested in taking part in rodeo pageants. Harmony Latham, a native of Southern California, is Miss Rodeo USA 2016, and Katherine Merck of Spokane is Miss Rodeo America 2016.

In addition to Latham and Merck, a number of other rodeo queens or former rodeo queens served as instructors. They included Paige Jerrett, who was Miss Rodeo New York 2012 and first runner-up for Miss Rodeo USA in 2016; and Nicole Schrock, who was Miss Rodeo Oregon 2013 and second runner-up at the 2016 Miss Rodeo America pageant.

Rodeo Queen University also brought in professional rodeo coaches including Danny Alires, a professional saddle bronc rider; Jamie Jess, a professional cowgirl; and Josh Allen and Brady Coker, who taught roping events.

“We strive every year to bring the best of the best in the rodeo queen industry with the most current information to teach our campers,” organizer Jamie Rauch of Moses Lake said.

Many of those in attendance held rodeo titles and planned to take part in larger competitions in the future. They included, Macy LaValley, Miss Rodeo Washington; and Mollee Gray, who is in her second year as Washington High School Rodeo Queen. Others had competed for titles, but not yet won a pageant. Some had plans to take part in their first pageants, while others were quite new to rodeo.

Rauch commented that this year there were six girls between the ages of 8 and 12 who had never been on a horse before. She said that it was a joy to see these girls overcome their fears and ride each day.

“The girls who do have experience really mentored,” Rauch commented.

The girls and young women, ages 8-24, had in common a love of horses and western horsemanship skills. Many shared Christian faith as a cornerstone in their lives and the days at camp encouraged participants to develop a personal walk with Christ. The campers also shared a desire to pursue excellence and the skills necessary to put their best foot forward in terms of their dress, makeup, manners and public presentation skills.

June 26 was the last day of the four-day camp and the girls had the morning to show parents and visitors a demonstration of their horsemanship skills. They had the afternoon to show modeling and public speaking skills.

Girls ranged from very shy to confident, but each one got up on stage to introduce herself.

When it was time for camp to close, there were lots of hugs and some tearful good-byes. Many campers developed special bonds with their leaders and “professors,” as rodeo queen instructors were called during camp.

Many girls have attended camp for multiple years. Shelby Eckenberg of Mattawa was the most long-standing, having attended for all five years. Eckenberg, who is 16, said she plans to compete for Washington High School Rodeo Queen 2017. Eckenberg loves to come to camp because the time helps her build bonds with others who share her interest in rodeo. She appreciates learning rodeo queen skills as well as life skills.

Maria Roghair, of Isabel, S.D., traveled the farthest to attend camp. Roghair was the 2015 Junior Miss Faith Stock Show and the 2014 Perkins County Junior Queen. She said that she learned about camp through her cousin Naomi Roghair, who is Miss Spirit of the West, and was glad she came because she learned skills in how to present herself in the arena and how to do her hair and makeup. She also learned life lessons. Roghair said she would like to compete in the Junior Miss Rodeo South Dakota pageant in 2017.

Kaylin Ness and Annabelle Booth, both of Othello, were in their fourth year attending camp. The girls said that camp has helped them to become more confident about themselves. Ness said that public speaking was very difficult for her at first, but the fear of getting up in front of people and talking has become a lot less with practice.

LaValley has been either a camper or staff, or some of both, for the past four years. She appreciated the chance to learn from others who have achieved national titles as she prepares to try for Miss Rodeo America this fall. “I get to learn from the best,” LaValley said of camp.

One thing that seems to be in common with the campers is that they look up to rodeo queens and try to emulate them. Merck, who was Miss Rodeo Washington in 2015, is the first from this state to hold the Miss Rodeo America title. After taking two years off to serve the two titles, Merck will finish her final year of law school at Gonzaga University next year. As Miss Rodeo America, she has traveled over 100,000 miles this year representing rodeo around the country and as far away as Australia. She has also been able to use scholarship funds that she earned through the two titles to graduate debt free. For Merck, it is a passion to help younger girls reach their potential, both in rodeo queen pageants and in building a future career. Merck was on her way to Colorado, but made sure to take the time to give her campers hugs and to make arrangements to stay in touch.

Rauch hopes to help potential rodeo queens be prepared for their roles, both in the arena and in relating to the public and the media. She also wants to mentor girls with interest in horses and riding skills, even if they have no plans to participate in pageants. Rauch said that in addition to having both national queens present, this year’s camp had the highest attendance ever at 40 campers.

 

Harmony Latham, Miss Rodeo USA 2016, and Macy LaValley, Miss Rodeo Washington 2016, pose together after a long weekend of work at Rodeo Queen University. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen )

Harmony Latham, Miss Rodeo USA 2016, and Macy LaValley, Miss Rodeo Washington 2016, pose together after a long weekend of work at Rodeo Queen University. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

 

Abby Buchert, 12, of Soap Lake, hugs Katherine Merck, Miss Rodeo America 2016, before leaving camp June 26. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

Abby Buchert, 12, of Soap Lake, hugs Katherine Merck, Miss Rodeo America 2016, before leaving camp June 26. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

 

Camper Shelby Eckenberg of Mattawa signs a shirt for a younger camper. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen )

Camper Shelby Eckenberg of Mattawa signs a shirt for a younger camper. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

 

Campers Annabelle Booth and Kaylin Ness, both of Othello, pose together after Rodeo Queen University. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)

Campers Annabelle Booth and Kaylin Ness, both of Othello, pose together after Rodeo Queen University. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)