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Hold your horses!

March 1, 2010
Miss Rodeo combines two passions
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Miss Rodeo combines two passions

Nicole Ray is probably the only person I've met who graduated from hygiene school and was crowned queen two months later. Her title of Miss Rodeo Washington 2009 piqued my interest in learning more about her reign and her sport. So if you're like me and don't know much about rodeo, saddle up, hang on to your hat, and Nicole will show you around the arena!

First of all, it takes a lot of determination to compete in rodeo events. Nicole spent years preparing and competing. “I have been riding since I was 11 years old,” Nicole said. “I started out showing 4–H, then moved to open horse shows and eventually advanced to American Quarter Horse Shows. When I was done with high school, I sold my show horse because it was time to go to college.”

It was a quick decision for Nicole to choose her career path. “I have known I wanted to be a dental hygienist since I was in high school,” she said. “I felt that it was a career that I would enjoy and that would fit my lifestyle. After high school, I started taking prerequisite classes right away and applied for the dental hygiene program as soon as possible. I was accepted into the Columbia Basin Dental Hygiene Program in Pasco, Washington.”

However, Nicole missed the riding and the competition and it wasn't long until a new horse entered her life. “Soon, I got another horse and in 2006 received the title of Benton–Franklin Fair and Rodeo Queen. While serving as the Benton–Franklin Fair and Rodeo Queen I realized how much I loved the sport of rodeo and the people involved. I knew I wanted to compete for Miss Rodeo Washington, but I wanted to finish college first.”

Nicole graduated in June 2008 and promptly competed in the Miss Rodeo Washington Pageant in Ellensburg, Wash. She won the title of Miss Rodeo Washington 2009 and was also awarded the Personality and Horsemanship awards.

“The Miss Rodeo Washington Pageant is five days long,” she explains. “During this time we have interviews, speeches, modeling, impromptu questions, and a horsemanship competition. It is a long week, but it gives the judges time to truly get to know your personality.”

What is it like to be a rodeo queen and represent her state?

“As Washington's first lady of rodeo, I will dedicate my year to promoting Washington and the sport of professional rodeo,” she said. “Washington is not only overflowing with modern technology, but it also portrays a tremendous amount of Western heritage and lifestyle.

“I have a true passion for the morals and values the Western lifestyle and professional rodeo have held for many years — patriotism, honesty, faith, sportsmanship, and a strong work ethic just to name a few. I have been blessed to have been given the opportunity as Miss Rodeo Washington 2009 to share these values and educate new and old rodeo fans about the sport of rodeo.”

Her reign included a lot of travel to many different venues. “I traveled over 50,000 miles to rodeos throughout the Columbia River Circuit (which includes Washington, Oregon, and part of Idaho) and some of the larger rodeos around the nation such as the National Western Stock Show, Horse Show and Rodeo (in Denver), San Antonio Rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days, and more. Last December, I competed for the title of Miss Rodeo America 2010.”

Nicole seems to enjoy the spirit of competition and claims, “I am a very driven person. I like to have a goal and work hard until I achieve it. My parents have always been very supportive and taught me to be the best I can be.” Win or lose, Nicole says she will stay involved with the sport. “I am so blessed to have been given this opportunity, and I will do the best I can to promote Washington and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association!”

Nicole practices dental hygiene part time with Dr. Eric Powell in Richland, Wash., and says, “I enjoy my job and look forward to many more years in the field of dental hygiene. I feel that being a registered dental hygienist and Miss Rodeo Washington are connected. Each title benefits the other. Dental hygiene offers excellent hours and pay to help fund my year. It has also improved my people skills and it has taught me many important interview skills and how to carry myself as a professional.”

The competition to be a rodeo queen

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Rodeo is unique because the sport actually developed from an occupation. The daily operations of a working ranch require skills such as roping and riding, along with other activities to keep it running. In the past, these skills were perfected to the point that some competition developed between the ranch hands. The present day rodeo eventually evolved from these competitive matches. Held in indoor or outside arenas, rodeo events each have their own object, rules, excitement, and reward.

At the heart of rodeo is the relationship between horse and rider. This synergy becomes apparent when watching events. The horse and rider need to react as one unit, relaxed, and yet ready to move quickly. This relationship is developed over time as the team work together through qualifying and moving up to larger competitions.

Nicole Ray, a dental hygienist who was Miss Washington Rodeo Queen, offers us more information about being rodeo queen: “Generally in a horsemanship competition, the horse and rider are being judged. The horse and rider do a pattern that is made by the judge. The rider is judged on how well they ride and control the horse. The horse is being judged on how well it listens to the rider and maneuvers the pattern.

“However, at the Miss Rodeo Washington Pageant Horsemanship competition the rider is judged more than the horse. At the state pageant we do not use our own horse. We draw numbers to see which of the horses provided we will be riding. Therefore, the horse is not judged as much because they realize that it is not our horse.

“Rodeo queens ride Western style. We ride on a Western saddle and wear jeans, chaps, long–sleeved riding shirts, and cowboy hats. We ride and dress Western style because we are representing the American cowboy and the Western way of life.”

She adds, “The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) is the organization that I represent. They have over 60 rules that ensure proper care and treatment of rodeo animals.”

Stock contractors (people who supply the stock for cowboys to compete on) take these rules very seriously. The stock is very important to the contractors. A bucking horse can cost more than $15,000 and some bulls sell for more than $40,000 so they ensure that their animals are treated properly. Rodeo livestock perform less than five minutes a year! If you want more information about the different rodeo events or animal welfare, you can look at the PRCA official Web site

Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH, is a frequent contributor. She is based in Lake Orion, Mich.