Onetime rodeo queen Joanie Thompson Robinson, 29 (Miss Rodeo Utah of 1982), is telling about the demands of reign dates. “Once, as I was proudly carrying the flag through a crowded arena, my hat came off.” she recalls, “but that was nothing compared to the wig. There I was, wigless before hundreds of people. When the clown threw my hairpiece up in the air and shot it, I thought I would die.”
To city folks, being a rodeo queen may look as easy as falling off a horse—a matter of good legs, long hair and a plenitude of spangles—but that just shows what city folks know. Here at Utah State University in Logan during the eighth annual Rodeo Queen Clinic, 40 bright-eyed cowgirls from eight Western states have assembled to learn such quirks of queening as mounting a horse gracefully while squeezed into skintight pants, fixing your hair so it holds up under a ten-gallon hat, and even hat-shaping (steam it with a teakettle so the brim curls).
The school is run by J’Wayne McArthur, 54, a horsemanship instructor who was judging a Utah rodeo queen contest in 1983 when the inspiration struck him. “There’s nothing prettier than a girl in a tight pair of pants, a cowboy hat and boots,” says McArthur, “but half the girls were mounting the horse incorrectly or riding like a dude. In-depth training was sorely needed.” The three-day, $125 clinic was foaled, and its students are grateful. “I want more than anything to be crowned princess of the West Jordan Stampede,” declares Utahan Jaime Bergman, 14.
Such crowns don’t come cheap. “Hats cost $60 to $200, suits $300, and a good pair of boots is another $200,” says Lani Parker, 20, from Arizona. But Becky Madsen of May, Idaho, 11, isn’t altogether sure all this froufrou is right. “A cowgirl goes out even when it’s 10 below zero,” Becky says proudly. “She can get a drink facedown in the water without getting her hair wet and she can step in manure without saying, ‘Oh, ick!’
“But now my mom says it’s time I started acting like a lady,” Becky adds, with less enthusiasm, “so that’s why I’m here.”