Did you ever feel a time when you thought you couldn't ever be a good rodeo queen because you hadn't won a title yet or you weren't a state or national level titleholder? Well that's where you're wrong. This week's titleholder hasn't won her state pageant (yet) or a national title, but still strives to be the best titleholder out there! Please help us welcome from the Beaver State, Kelsey Leinbach! Kelsey was Miss Molalla Royals and a contestant for the 2018 Miss Rodeo USA Pageant and is now working towards competing this August in the 2019 Miss Rodeo Oregon Pageant!
Photo by: Jeff Wong Photography
How did you become involved in rodeo and rodeo queen pageants?
Growing up in a state that is the literal birth place of Rodeo Queens, you are taught that the queens are royalty and to be on a rodeo court you basically have to become hometown royalty. I did 9 years of 4-H and help with the youth programs for the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys. The summer after I won my first rodeo buckle, I decided it was time to try out for my local title. On yhe day of our tryouts I came down with a case of the flu that my mom swears should have put me in the hospital. But I loaded up on cold medicine, tissues up my interview suit jacket, and rode my horse and a draw horse. Needless to say, I didn’t make it onto the court that year. My sister and I tried out for our regional pageant the following year and the queen scene in my family snowballed from there. My sisters held Jr Princess titles for the Molalla Buckeroo, one of my sisters held the 2017 Little Miss NPRA title, I am runner up to the 2018 Miss NPRA, and tried out for Miss Rodeo USA under my previous title of Miss Molalla Royals. I don’t regret a minute of it! The people I’ve met and the places queening has taken me has changed my life.
What was your experience like at Miss Rodeo USA?
The Miss Rodeo USA pageant was by far, without a doubt, no questions asked, the most laid back pageant I have ever participated in. The ladies that run it are beyond supportive and kind. I am still in contact with the friends I made during IFR. It was the first pageant that my extended family could attend (OKC is a short drive from Tulsa). It was really neat to see everyone together cheering for me. Because I arrived a day early, I went on a private after hours tour Shorty’s Caboy Hattery in OKC. There, they taught me how to make a custom hat! As a pageant group we spent quite a bit of time at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (If you are ever in OKC it is a MUST go). We performed at the Rodeo Opry and at Remington Park. We spent each night of IFR in the Jim Norick Arena and then mingled with the IFR personnel and the contestants during the buckle ceremonies. I finished my trip visiting with family and stopping by the IPRA head quarters. It was incredible to be able to visit so many places with my rodeo sisters and to actively take part in Oklahoma’s rich history!
And let me just say. The food. If anyone follows me on Instagram, you know I’m all about that food. And boy howdy, did they feed us well. Janet Woods and Sherry Smith had us all try hot honey covered crescents at Charleston’s in OKC and I think we all considered the week a success after that meal. No matter who was crowned.
How awesome you got to go on a tour to Shorty’s! They are awesome! What was your goal going into Miss Rodeo USA, besides of course taking home the crown?
In all honesty aside from winning, I went solely for the experience of being one of the top 12 cowgirls in the country during the week of IFR. I’ve known about the Miss Rodeo USA title for a LONG time. I had studied the rules for the pageant a few years ago and considered it an option, but didn’t pursue it because the IPRA doesn’t have rodeos in the PAC NW and I had only ever attended a couple as a spectator. After I buckled at the NPRA pageant, my friend and I were sitting in a hotel room and she gave me “the look”, across a bed and suit case full of queen clothes (queens that travel out of state know exactly the look I’m talking about). It was the “Girl, I have an idea and things are about to get real” look. Next thing I knew, I was 3 months away from trying out for a national title. From the day she had the revelation that I was going to do this to the day the application was due, there was less than 2 weeks. Within 72 hrs of thinking it might be doable, someone approached me with a sponsor title. It was a complete whirl wind. God had a plan and I went with it. His plan ended up being so much better than anything I could have ever come up with on my own.
Photo by Lindsey Wyllie
What were those 3 months like getting ready for the national title? Did you ever feel intimidated because most girls spend a full year preparing for it?
During those 3 months, everything was done with purpose. My mother and I sat down and planned everything out in a notebook with a timeline, and then executed the plan. It wasn’t as stressful as I had anticipated, and I never felt intimidated. The knowledge portion was hard. In the last 5 years I’ve had to study 4 different rodeo association rules. Which can be difficult keeping straight when there are subtle differences in times and fines. However, aside from the rule differences for the test, There really wasn’t too much stress. If we couldn’t find clothes, we made them. Every time, I needed something in order to reach a deadline, I’d say a prayer and, I kid you not, before saying “Amen” I would get a text or a phone call or come across exactly what I was looking for. The preparation experience was surreal. I had so much support from my family and my community. The entire state was ecstatic that we had two girls trying for national titles this year.
That’s great that everything worked out so smoothly for you! I know when I went to Miss Missouri, I only had two months and I was stressed to the max for sure! What do you believe is the most important phase of competition and how do you prepare for it?
When you’re down to the wire, things definitely can be stressful! I’ve been there, but that ties right into what I believe is the most important part of any pageant, or performance based activity. It’s all about the preparation. Make a list of goal and stick to it. So many times girls get overwhelmed by losing or winning or not being enough. As much fun as winning is, that’s not why we do anything in life. It’s about making yourself and those around you better. Find a look that works for you, be consistent with that look, then study everything you can. Life is about studying, practicing, and then performing. So if you need help modeling, find someone to help. If you don’t know the association rules, go find the rules. It’s all about growth and improvement. A lot of girls will find a formula that lets them walk into any title they try out for. That’s great for them, it is! Although, my advice to any girl getting into it or wanting to get more out of queening, is to live in the experience, study everything you can about rodeo and public presentation. The pageant starts before you send in that app. So find your niche, be rodeo’s biggest fan, and make yourself useful. You will win more hearts with kindness and work ethic than you will with fancy boots and expensive makeup. You make it what it is. If you go into it with a goal, and you meet that goal, then you have already won. Rodeo is about being better than you were the last run, and leaving any losses in the arena when you walk out. Rodeo Queening is an event just like the others so remember that you need to practice out of the arena to win in it. And if you crush a goal, then own it and be proud because you just won the pageant!
Since we’ve talked before, I know there’s a special story behind your chaps. What is that story?
Haha oh my chaps. I love them beyond words. The story has actually gotten even more amazing since we last talked!
The gentleman that made them is named Bob Roy. He is an Oregon cowboy who is a revered leather worker in just about anywhere. As long as I can remember I have wanted a pair of chaps made by him. When I realized I could order chaps because I had a rodeo queen title, I had gone through several people trying to get a pair ordered. Do you remember how I said being a queen is a big deal in Oregon? Well, owning a piece of Bob’s leather work is an even bigger deal.
When I went to Miss Rodeo USA, I brought with me two pairs of cuffs. One of the sets he had made for that local court the year I had tried out with the flu. Somehow they had been passed through the queen closets and landed in my mailbox (remember those prayers?)
So of course, I was already excited to have the cuffs. And in my little girl heart, I was happy. So I go through the process of finding a chap maker and as each chap maker got busier and busier, it was getting more difficult to get a custom pair ordered.
One afternoon, I received a call that if I ordered from Bob Roy, I would get some help paying for them (back to that prayer thing I was talking about). So I gave Bob a call and he sat on the phone with me, got a design sketched up and said I’ll have them for you no down payment, I’ll see you in May
(Insert about 15 min after said phone call of me having an absolute fit of shock and excitement and gratitude).
Fast Forward to our conversation of me saying “Hey! Let’s just wait for my chaps to come in before this interview!”
About a week later, I call him to set up a pick up day. He told me that my chaps were going to be ready by the time he said. However, the leather he ordered came in the wrong color twice, so he’d give me a call when everything got sorted out. He calls me back a few days later and says "Okay good news, your chaps are done," So we schedule a time to meet. I get there, he pulls in, I go say hi, and he hands me one of the most gorgeous pair of chaps that I’ve seen in a very long time. And then he asks me if they are good enough (remember that little girl with that dream? Yeah me too). I stood there and he handed me the most perfect pair of chaps with my name on them and asked me if they were good enough because he had finally gotten the leather the day before and finished them about 18 hours before handing them to me. The tooling and stain on them matched the cuffs he had made and the complimenting leather he picked matched the other cuff set that I wore at USA. The second set was made by another Oregon leather worker, Bob DoLittle. My perfect chaps literally matched both sets of cuffs made by Oregon leather-working legends.
I was in absolute shock. That little girl with that dream was standing in front of her leather working icon who was handing her perfection and hoping she liked them.
The entire experience humbled me beyond words. It made me even more grateful for the work of the hands that make this world possible. Every person has a part to play and each just wants to be appreciated and told that what they do matters. It’s why the Code of the West is so important. The guy that sets the ropes in a branding field is just as important to the rancher as the guy that makes the rope. The person that makes the chaps for the cowboys and queens is just as important as the contestants themselves. People need each other and that’s why I love rodeo because the appreciation for that hard work is shown.
I'm so glad we waited to do this interview so I could hear this story. I absolutely love the way life works out sometimes for us. How important is it that we take care of our sponsors and show how much we appreciate them? I know for most titleholders we couldn't do what we do without the sponsors.
Shannon, you just asked about one of my favorite things to talk about! Let me get on my soapbox for a minute. If anyone has heard me in rodeo marketing interviews or discussions before, they’ve probably heard a phrase similar to “Sponsors are the Lifeblood of Professional Rodeo”. And it is so true. Yes, we wouldn’t have a competition without the cowboys and rough stock, but we wouldn’t have professional rodeo without our sponsors. Many people don’t realize how expensive it is to put on a rodeo performance. Everything costs money and everyone wants to get paid. Rodeo is a business. When sponsors donate time, money, or services, it takes some of the stress- of putting the performance on- off the shoulders of the volunteers running our favorite rodeos. Sponsors make the magic happen. They often pay for champion buckles, awards, media coverage, events and activities surrounding rodeos(ie bands, parties, sweepstakes, the VIP tent). Sponsors also help with funds for publicity and bring legitimacy to the rodeo and committee. When people see businesses putting their name on a rodeo, they are more trusting that the rodeo is going to be quality. Because of this support, the relationships we make and maintain with our sponsors is critical! Sponsors are our friends, and can quickly become our family. They wouldn’t be helping if they didn’t want to be involved in your brand and the brand of the organization you represent. This is where a queen(court) can make or break sponsor/rodeo board relationships. The Pendleton Roundup started their queen program as a marketing ploy in 1910. The girls who sold the most tickets- and brought the most publicity to Round-up- became the queen and court. This idea reach Cheyenne, and then it exploded across the country. The rodeo queen, in her essence, is a tool to attract an audience and to help maintain (and develop) sponsor relationships. Maintaining a sponsor relationship is about building a friendship. It’s about doing small things for them. Sending thank you cards is nice, but sometimes there is more you can do. I have a sponsor who donated their facility for an event I was hosting, and all they wanted in return was for me to stop in and say hi once in a while. That relationship is one of my most cherished moments. Another sponsor was starting a new service at their shop, so I shared their information on Facebook and they were so grateful that I was willing to take 15seconds to send business their way. It’s about reciprocity. When people help you, help them back. It’s just nice. As a queen, your sole job, your reason for existence, and the purpose for your title is to build positive branding and PR (this includes sponsors). Girls forget that being a queen is not only a job, it’s a privilege. A rodeo can exist without a queen. But it cannot exist without sponsors. A smart rodeo board will always be more willing to cut a troublesome queen than to ruin a sponsor relationship- it happens all the time. I’ve seen so many rodeos cancel their queen program or new rodeos never start one because of the reputation queens have to damage sponsor relationships. That being said, I’ve seen some incredible queens that have revolutionized their rodeo and court programs because they go the extra mile with their sponsors and with fundraising. It’s about what you make it. A little kindness and positive reciprocity will get you far.
When working with sponsors remember three things:
1. Sponsorships are mutually beneficial relationships.
2. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you can give.
3. They don’t have to sponsor you- don’t take that for granted. The most important thing you can learn how to do, as a queen, is to work with sponsors and build those relationships! It will not only serve you now, but also later in life.
What a wonderful insight on sponsors from the titleholder side of things. I know I can only preach so much as a director how important sponsors are because not everyone understands how much goes into getting them and keeping them satisfied because you’re right, they don’t have to sponsor us.
I have one last question for you. I’m sure a lot of girls reading this blog have gone through a lot of “losses” in rodeo queen pageant. Even though I don’t ever consider a pageant I didn’t walk away with the title a loss because there’s always something gained from each one. So from coming someone who hasn’t ever held a state or national title, what is one piece of advice you would give to girls who are discouraged after not walking away with the title several times?
My advice to any girl in the rodeo queen world is very simple. “The crown is just a tool that gets you through the gate. What you do with it after that, is up to you.” An epic year of queening is possible with any crown you wear (or don’t). It’s about your mindset. In your head, you are either a queen, or you aren’t. And by queen I don’t mean a girl with the right clothes and the right friends. I mean the hardest worker and kindest person where ever you are. With or without a crown or buckle, you are there to make a difference. The best queens are just nice people. It doesn’t matter if they are in their queen attire or in town getting their blood drawn. They are just nice and friendly and make everyone feel important. They change lives because they are genuine. The person you meet at a basketball game is the same person you see running flags and tacking down for a pickup man. Or sharing cold water with a bull fighter who just got run over. It doesn’t matter what your title is. If you are kind, work hard and are always prepared for opportunities to serve, your year will explode. It’s incredible what a little work ethic and a smile will do to open doors you never knew existed. Being friendly and ambitious can easily take a year of mediocre and turn it into the best queen year your rodeo board has ever had! And you will get so much more out it!
10 key points to remember to help make your year perfect:
1. Never. I repeat: NEVER. Lose your hat in an arena. That hat hits the ground and your head better be in it. Participants are fined if they lose their hats. Queens better set the example. If that means the hat is taped, pinned, hair sprayed, and spirit gummed to your forehead, then make sure you clean the hat band after every ride. But do NOT let that thing fly off. You will set a tone for your year and the cowboys will immediately lose respect for you. I can’t tell you how many cowboys come up to me after rodeos and just shake their head because a queen lost a hat. I’ve had clowns come up to me when I’m working a rodeo and hand me, and the person I’m standing with, queen clothes that he picked up so we can go find the owner. So make sure that hat is a permanent fixture on your person.
2. Your clothes need to fit. If you can’t sew or know someone who does, get yourself a good tailor/seamstress. There is nothing more embarrassing than a wardrobe malfunction during an event. I’ve seen girls split their pants during flybys. Not too tight or too lose, your clothes need to fit and be appropriate for your event.
3. On that note, shapewear is your friend. No matter what size you are, invest in good shapewear and underclothes. No one wants to see panty or bra lines. And shapewear helps smooth everything out. I’m very slight, but the difference when I wear shapewear vs when I don’t is monumental!
4. Make sure your leather is maintained. Check your leather. If it needs fixing go to a saddle repair shop or the maker of your piece. Check the hardware on your tack, make sure it’s clean. Not only does it look good, but keeping it in good condition helps with safety.
5. Pack ahead of time and always have a queen bag ready to go. Take stress away by planning. A little planning goes a long way. If you need snacks, pack them. If you need to do homework, pack it. There is so much stress already, don’t add to it if you can avoid it.
6. Once you leave your staging area, everything stops being about you. Once you step away from that mirror, all you should be doing the rest of the day is maybe a touch up on a break. The second you step onto the rodeo grounds, until you are checked into your next engagement, you are working for the rodeo you attend. They aren’t letting you in for free because you’re cute. You are there to work. And if that means you are mounted the entire day, working a double perf in 105 degree weather, make friends with someone working the ground because you’re going to want a water bottle.
7. Try to avoid petty drama. Or as my incredible mom always says, “don’t be in the thick of thin things”. If you keep your nose clean, it will save you so much unnecessary emotion and will help you keep your head in the game.
8. If you’re in public, don’t get contrary with your advisers. They are there to help things run smoothly. Unless it’s illegal or morally compromising (which most of the time it isn’t), don’t pick a fight with them in public. They wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be- it’s a volunteer position. When you have that crown on, you aren’t representing you- you are representing a community tradition. If you pick a fight with the person making your life happen, it not only reflects poorly on you, but also on your board and community. Don’t be that girl. Any issues should be resolved behind the scenes. And I mean behind the scenes. People gossip, advisors talk, older queens who’ve been around, we all get phone calls and texts. If you are at your trailer throwing a hissy fit because your advisor said it’s time to go home but you wanted to be in the halftime show, (or something along those lines) don’t throw a tantrum. Calmly bring up your concern and if she still won’t budge, then give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she has information you don’t. And you don’t know who’s watching. Sponsors are everywhere and your rodeo board knows everything.
9. Always remember that Queening is a privilege. A rodeo can run without a Queen- always be there to help. Don’t get in the way. Know your place in the arena. Know your place behind the chutes. Be a help and not a hinder. These people make their living doing this work. Help them out! It’s always so much more fun when you are making friends because of service!
10. Rodeo is about having fun and helping others have fun! Keep a chipper attitude and kill them with kindness! Be the person people want to be around. You’ll find that when you start having fun, others will see that and want to join in. Life is what you make it. A great year can come from anywhere. If you keep a positive attitude and find good everywhere, you’ll start to see how much the world has to offer. Being a queen with or without your hat on will open more doors than you ever thought possible.
Photo by: Living Irradiance Photography
Thank you Kelsey for chatting with me for a while for this interview! I truly appreciate the tips and advice you have given to girls competing in the rodeo queen industry. I know so many times girls want to give up because they've "lost" too many times, but through your experiences you are inspiration to keep going towards that ultimate goal we have set for ourselves, whether it's becoming Miss Rodeo America or Miss Rodeo USA, or even chasing a career goal. Ladies please take all of this advice to heart. If you have the passion and you love what you're doing, don't give up, you'll get there one day. One thing I have always been told is "it's not about the destination, but the journey getting there."
We wish you the best of luck Kelsey at Miss Rodeo Oregon!
Until next week,
Miss Ozark Rodeo Association Pageant