They were those little girls who loved horses. Some grew up on ranches where horses were part of their lives; others had to persuade their parents to help them pursue their passion with riding lessons and boarding arrangements.
They learned to compete in 4-H, gymkhanas, junior rodeos and more. Then they took that competitive spirit to another level — coveting a jeweled crown — a crown of a rodeo queen.
The Rim Country will be ablaze with all that bling during the Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo when the Miss Rodeo Arizona Pageant joins the festivities to select the state’s new royalty.
Payson’s hometown atmosphere and welcoming community brought the Miss Arizona Rodeo Pageant back to Payson last year after a stint in the Valley.
“The board likes Payson,” said Nancy Landino, local contact for the Miss Rodeo Arizona Pageant board.
While the rodeo thunder rumbles throughout the Rim Country with the competition at the Event Center, most of the pageant activities will unfold at the Best Western Payson Inn, located at 801 N. Beeline Highway.
The ladies who compete must exhibit horsemanship talent, have poise on the stage, be well spoken, understand the western life, able to give a speech and answer extemporaneous questions.
There are four contestants for Miss Rodeo Arizona 2013: Brittney Truman, Candice Hill, Halle Fry and Taci Shaffer. Two young women will compete for the title of Miss Teen Rodeo Arizona 2013: Brigitte Kennison and Page McGiffin.
They will be welcomed by the reigning royalty Miss Rodeo Arizona Jayme Smith and Miss Teen Rodeo Arizona Sammi Miles.
The winner of the Miss Rodeo Arizona Pageant will compete for the Miss Rodeo America Pageant in December at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
While the contestants compete this weekend for the Miss Rodeo Arizona crown, the outgoing Miss Rodeo Arizona and Miss Teen Rodeo Arizona will participate in activities around town. Joining the Arizona Queens will be Kyla Jo Elder, Miss Turquoise Circuit and rodeo royalty from other states such as New Mexico, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming and Florida.
Landino, a former president of the Board of Miss Rodeo Arizona, Inc., helped to find host families for the queens and worked with local businesses, such as Chapman Auto to arrange for transportation and activities.
The visiting royalty will have an airplane ride, attend the grand opening of the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store and participate in the rodeo.
Other Rim Country businesses the Board of Miss Rodeo Arizona, Inc. appreciates for supporting the Miss Rodeo Arizona 2013 Pageant are: the Payson Pro Rodeo Committee, Chaparral Pines, The Rim Club, Payson Pilots Association, Chili’s, Crosswinds Restaurant, Gerardo’s Firewood Cafe, Macky’s Grill, Pizza Factory and Safeway.
“It would be extremely difficult to produce the pageant without their generous support,” said Landino.
The first Miss Rodeo Arizona Pageant was held in 1958. Every year since, the organization has held a pageant.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Landino of the event.
The Miss Rodeo Arizona Web site describes the position as it, “symbolizes the youth of our state who wish to further promote the sport of rodeo, and in so doing, promote our western heritage. She is the ideal western American young woman, and will represent our state and the sport of rodeo as she travels throughout Arizona and the country.”
The queens visit schools, fire stations and FFA and 4-H clubs. They talk to rodeo hopefuls and those in hospital beds. They meet with rodeo committees and local business owners spreading good will and the warm western vibes.
Miss Rodeo Arizona Jayme Smith
Smith is the daughter of Dennis and Nancy Smith and a fourth generation cowgirl from Taylor, Ariz.
As Miss Rodeo Arizona she had the opportunity of promoting and preserving not only her personal heritage, but also that of the western way of life.
She finished her associate’s degree in psychology from Northland Pioneer Community College and Arizona State University with the goal of becoming a flight nurse in the future. She also works as an emergency medical technician for the state of Arizona.
During her reign as Arizona’s Centennial Queen, Smith traveled thousands of miles all over the U.S. and Canada promoting not only Arizona, but also the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the western way of life and being a role model for youth.
“It is such an honor to have this opportunity and wants to make the state of Arizona proud,” Smith said.
She logged more than 50,000 miles, attending many rodeos and rodeo queen pageants, making appearances at schools, visiting hospitals and senior living facilities and participating in a wide variety of other events.
A week after being crowned in May 2012 her travels began. She was off to Clovis, N.M. and then straight on to North Platte, Neb.
It was a busy year, but she says it has honestly been the best year of her life. During last summer Smith was involved in many rodeos, including the “Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo” in Colorado Springs, Colo.
While in Colorado Springs she attended the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame inductions, an experience that was absolutely amazing to her.
She was able to see some of the greats of rodeo make history, as well as be a part of that history herself.
As someone who loves horses and the western way of life, Smith had always dreamed of attending well-known rodeos, but was never sure she would ever be able to. Not only did she make it to these rodeos, she was a part of them, having experiences she will never forget.
Smith also had the opportunity of representing Arizona in the Miss Rodeo America Pageant this past December in Las Vegas, Nev. She said it was truly a week to remember as she competed with 30 other state queens for the title of Miss Rodeo America 2013.
As Smith passes her crown on to Miss Rodeo Arizona 2013, she looks forward to the next chapter of her life knowing that whatever she does, her 12 months as Arizona’s first lady of rodeo will be a time she will never forget — a whirlwind of activity, experiences, and meeting many people who she will remember fondly.
Miss Teen Rodeo Arizona Sammi Miles
Samantha “Sammi” Miles attends Arizona State University. She is a junior majoring in communications.
In May of 2012, Miles graduated from River Valley High School in Mohave Valley, Ariz. and Mohave Community College with her associate’s degree. In December of 2014 she will be graduating with her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University.
Miles began riding horses at the age of 7 and has become proficient in gymkhana, western and English riding.
She was appointed the Colorado River Round Up Needles Rodeo Princess in 2009 and again in 2010. At 16, Miles was crowned the 2011 Andy Devine Days Rodeo Queen and in May of 2012 she had the honor of winning the title of Miss Teen Rodeo Arizona.
She has fully enjoyed traveling throughout Arizona representing her title and our western heritage for the last year.
Winning this title was a dream come true for Miles and has given her the experience of a lifetime.
During her spare time Miles enjoys riding with the Cowgirls Historical Foundation and participating in their drill team.
Her long-term goal is to help educate young people on western heritage, preserving the past to protect the future.
Miss Rodeo Arizona 2013 Pageant Schedule
Friday, May 17
• 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Horsemanship competition, Payson Event Center Rodeo Arena, 1400 S. Beeline Highway
• 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Informal modeling, introduction speech and extemporaneous responses to questions about current events, horsemanship and rodeo, Best Western Payson Inn, 801 N. Beeline Highway
Saturday, May 18
• 2 p.m., Rodeo performance at Payson Event Center Rodeo Arena, 1400 S. Beeline Highway
• 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Fashion show and state speech, plus auction at Best Western Payson Inn, 801 N. Beeline Highway
Sunday, May 19
• 8:45 a.m., Coronation at Best Western Payson Inn, 801 N. Beeline Highway
Teresa McQuerrey, editor of the Rim Review, contributed to this story.