DES MOINES — Riders call it “the Queen’s salute.” Contestants for the Iowa State Fair Cowgirl Queen Contest ride the rail inside the Jacobson Exhibition Center, running their horse at a wide open speed and saluting the crowd as they gallop by. The exhibitor’s goal is to stop on a dime with complete control of their steed.
Emily Miller, of Newton, was one of 20 finalists who won the opportunity to salute the judges at the Jr. Cowgirl Queen Contest Friday night. Like most exhibitors, the Queen contest is the culmination of several days of showing for the 15 year old. Miller began the week Tuesday with 4-H competitions. She said her Paint Strawberry Roan horse earned nearly all purple ribbons at this year’s fair — earning first and second place in every class.
Although some riders make the trip an overnight affair, Miller and her family board their animal at the ISF horse barn and commute from Newton daily — leaving for Des Moines at 5:20 a.m. to have adequate prep time. Miller said family support is a must have for ISF competitions.
“It takes a lot, thankfully I have my mom’s help. Without her I don’t think I could do these shows,” Miller said. “For this contest, we work for three hours getting my hair and makeup all ready and giving my horse a bath.”
Miller and other Jasper County riders competed in categories such as English pleasure, western pleasure, showmanship and English pleasure trot. But the Jacobson Center is filled for the primetime crowning of the Cowgirl Queen.
Three hours before the Queen contest, the stables become a makeshift beauty salon. In front of the horse stalls, the curling irons are plugged in and mothers and makeup artists airbrush the exhibitors with foundation and eye shadow.
Spare stables are used as closets, holding saddles and saddle pads, bridals, baby powder and oil, shinning spray, hair bands and horse tailhair extensions. Hanging in the corner like a superhero costume are the riders’ final touch — brightly colored leather outfits covered in rhinestones.
This is the time riders mentally prepare. Elie Horn of Reasnor also vied for Jr. Cowgirl Queen, Friday. She said as the competition approaches it become about focus.
“Before I go ride I focus on how I’m going to sit, how I’m going to cue my horse — its juxtaposition on the rail,” she said. “I think about every little detail so I can focus on riding (rather) than everything else that is going on around me.”
But Horn said the biggest obstacle she faced was the familiarity with her Queen horse. For her 4-H and FFA competitions early in the week, Horn rode an 8-year-old horse named Drake, but during the Queen contest she mounted a quarter horse which she had spent little time with throughout the week.
“It’s creating that bond with your horse, so when the time comes you can just get on and be confident in your performance,” she said.
For those unfamiliar with the Queen contest, its like a beauty pageant meets rodeo. The riders are broken down into four “goes” of approximately 20 riders. Following each go, five exhibitors move on to the final go where the Queen is crowned and four attendants — or runners up — are selected.
A live musician played jazz and singer standards on a synthesizer during the competition, changing the tempo and tunes as the Emcee called out “walk your horse” and “horses at the jog on the rail.” Exhibitors have to maintain control of their horse and focus on posture, cues and style while trying to keep a big smile.
In all, six Jasper County riders took part in the Jr. Cowgirl Queen Contest and another three exhibitors competed for the title of Sr. Cowgirl Queen. The Jr. Cowgirl contestants included Mackenzie Messick of Monroe, Cheyenne Nikkel of Sully, Alexus Coleman of Monroe and Halsey Morecock of Prairie City. Sr. Cowgirl competitors were Morgan Arrowood of Newton, Alex Cleverly of Newton and Amber Knight of Monroe.
Contact Staff Writer Mike Mendenhall at firstname.lastname@example.org.