July 26, 2011 – When people hear the word “pageant,” what may come to mind are ditzy girls speaking brainless answers into a microphone – looking way to thin for real life while they’re at it. These people have never met a rodeo queen. Meet another Barrel Racing Royalty – Miss Rodeo Arizona.
During my interviewing trek across America, I have ventured via cell phone into the flooded regions of North Dakota, the cornfields of Nebraska, the muggy miles of Florida and the limitless forests of Washington. Each time I talk to a rodeo queen I am amazed at the openness, exuberance, passion and dedication each girl brings to her crown. Miss Rodeo Arizona was no different.
Audrey Hall, 22-year-old barrel racer from Yuma, Ariz. shared the story of her road to royalty with me just before leaving for a four-state rodeo tour.
“I have this energy about going out and talking to people about what we’re doing and meeting with different kids and signing autographs,” Hall said. “I love the sport of rodeo. It’s something I’m going to be involved [in] till the day that I die. The people that are involved are so amazing.”
As rodeo queen, Hall is expected to know Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeo rules and protocol. And when the queen arrives in her rodeo empire she does not sit upon a leather throne. Instead, she is in the barns answering questions, in the stands cheering on the participants or connecting with little cowboys and cowgirls. Whether she is signing autographs for the toothless grins admiring her sparkly crown or posing for a photo with a visiting war veteran, a rodeo queen is always on the go.
“I’m attracted to the phenomenal people,” Hall said. “I’m attracted to the sport, and then that makes me just want to get out there and talk to people about rodeo and sign autographs for kids. It’s so much fun.”
Hall began young. When she was around nine years old a friend convinced Hall to curl her chin-length hair for the local junior rodeo queen contest.
“I’ve kind of always not really been a foo-foo girl,” Hall said. “Not into fringe, not into that stuff at all.”
She didn’t win that go-around, but the dream was only a seedling then. Hall entered a teen rodeo queen contest with a high school friend and won. Growing from there, she became Teen Queen of Yuma Rodeo, Queen of Yuma Rodeo, Miss Turquoise Rodeo and Miss Rodeo Arizona.
“We’re busy,” Hall said. “But you know what, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have it any other way and I absolutely, positively love it.”
Miss Rodeo Arizona doesn’t travel on a magic carpet though. She pays for gas just like the rest of us. She must also pay for the 19 outfits required for the Miss Rodeo America pageant in Las Vegas in December 2012.
“Growing up, my dad instilled a work ethic into me and you go out and do your thing,” Hall said. “You do the best that you can.”
In addition to utilizing barn smarts, rodeo queens, like Hall, are also forced to become mini-entrepreneurs. In exchange for a sponsorship, Hall offers advertising by word of mouth wherever she goes. She’s a living, breathing billboard.
“I know times are tough,” Hall said.
“Two of the things I want to do with my life I’m getting a taste of right now. And so it’s kind of really neat.”
It’s hard to get that kind of real-world experience in the classroom, and for Hall, who is also studying marketing and public relations, it’s a dream come true.
Hall’s journey is also a tale of perseverance. She lost her first run for Miss Rodeo Arizona and almost did not try again. Her personal motto of “everything happens for a reason” kept her motivated for another run.
“It’s a great experience, win, lose or draw,” Hall said. “And I will tell you that I learned more from losing that contest that first year than I did from winning any other contest.”
Miss Rodeo Arizona continues to blast away old stereotypes surrounding pageant queens, and does so by working from the crack of dawn till the rodeo is over late at night.
“Ultimately the goal is to be Miss Rodeo America,” Hall said. “We all want to go up there, we all want to do well, but we know only one girl will come out with the title … they say it’s an endurance race; the last girl standing.”
And so she’ll keep truckin’ until she meets her fellow queens for the year-end contest in Nevada.
“Everything in your life happens for a reason,” Hall said. “We might not know what that reason is right up front but we have to have faith that the right thing is happening for us and our lives and maybe that means that this just wasn’t the year for us or this just isn’t the path that we should take … you don’t ever want to have that ‘what if’ in your life.”
And with that, Audrey of Arizona follows the dusty trail off into the sunset, sparkling crown in tow, jumping at every opportunity to show the country what real beauty queens can accomplish, both in the saddle and out.