From the home of Black Hills Gold, the Miss Rodeo America crown, and Mount Rushmore, this week we are talking to former Miss Rodeo South Dakota and Miss Rodeo America, McKenzie (Haley) Vice! This South Dakota native talked about her time as Miss Rodeo America including what her hardest challenge was of the year and how she overcame it.
How did you become involved in rodeo and rodeo queen pageants?
My grandparents have always been involved with youth rodeo in South Dakota and my aunt grew up competing in rodeo and queen contests. My aunt was Miss Rodeo South Dakota in 1994 and first runner up at MRA. I took an interest in horses at a young age and I entered my first 4-H horse show at age 8 and entered my first 4-H rodeo and first queen contest at age 10. I competed in 4-H rodeo and high school rodeo growing up and I ran barrels, poles, tied goats and competed in the queen contests.
You were the first Miss Rodeo South Dakota to be named Miss Rodeo America since 1985. How did it feel to bring the title back to South Dakota?
It felt amazing!! I am the fourth South Dakota girl to win MRA and it is such an honor to be among those other women from South Dakota! One of my favorite things about being MRA was being able to attend rodeos or events in South Dakota. It was such a cool experience to be a part of rodeos that I had been a part of as the SD high rodeo queen, Jr Miss Rodeo South Dakota, Miss Rodeo South Dakota and then Miss Rodeo America. It was such a humbling experience and an honor to be able to make the people of South Dakota proud and excited that I had won Miss Rodeo America.
Besides winning the title of Miss Rodeo America, what was your goal when you were competing?
I went to Vegas to win! I had dreamed of being Miss Rodeo America since I was 10 years old, so I worked my butt off before I got there to insure that I was going to do my best at the pageant! Besides winning, I really wanted to do it how I wanted to do it. I wore clothes that I loved and I remained true to who I was. I really wanted the judges to get to know me. In order for me to be relaxed during the pageant, I had to make sure I was overly prepared and had an attitude that allowed me to be real and genuine. I believe I accomplished that goal. I had a blast at the MRA pageant, and not only because I won, but because I was relaxed and allowed myself to have fun and enjoy the moment. I also wanted to win some categories while at the pageant! I ended up winning speech, photogenic, personality and appearance. It was such an honor to not only win MRA, but to win those categories!
It's been seven years since you were named Miss Rodeo America, what has life been like after the crown? How did being Miss Rodeo America prepare you for that?
I took the second half of my year as Miss Rodeo South Dakota and the whole year I was Miss Rodeo America off from school and in that time I decided to change degrees. With the new degree I wanted, I had to change universities and partially start over with classes. In January 2012, right after I gave up the title of MRA, I started classes to get a degree in Communication Disorders. My plan was then to get my masters in Speech Pathology. While I was in school, I started dating my husband and we got engaged. After I graduated, I moved to Oklahoma and we got married in June 2014. We now live in Blanchard, OK and we have two daughters. Mesa is 2 and Dawsyn is 6 months. I have the privilege of staying home with them and I would not want to be doing anything else! When I was MRA, I met a cowboy who was good friends with my husband and he told him he needed to pursue me. So if being MRA prepared me for life right now, Id say it brought me to my husband and I am so thankful for that! Id say it also prepared me for the little to no sleep you get as a mother. There were many times as MRA that I was running on little sleep and now as a mom Im running on very little sleep as well. Jesus and coffee can get you through anything!!
What was your most memorable moment from being Miss Rodeo America 2011?
Oh my goodness! There were so many memorable moments. Being at the Black Hills Stock Show as MRA was pretty memorable. Mainly because I had been going to that rodeo with various titles since I was 14 years old and to be there as MRA was such a humbling and amazing experience. The Days of 76 rodeo in Deadwood, SD has and will always be one of my favorite rodeos and that year I was given my own day. They presented me with "McKenzie Haley Day" at the rodeo and it was all a surprise. There were so many neat and once in a lifetime experiences I had that year and I am so grateful I had every single one of them. The state queens that year were so fun and they helped make any time into a fun and memorable experience! I was so blessed to not only have a great group of state queens for my year as MRA but the group we had when I was MRSD was unbelievable as well! There are a few girls who are still some of my best friends and that is such a testament to the friendships that come out of being a state queen!
Who inspired you to compete for Miss Rodeo South Dakota?
My aunt was Miss Rodeo South Dakota in 1994 and first runner up to MRA. When I started competing in queen contests, I always said I was going to be Miss Rodeo South Dakota and Miss Rodeo America. Having an aunt who was MRSD was really an inspiration and she played such a huge part of my success as a rodeo queen. I started living with her every summer starting when I was 14 so I could rodeo and have her to help me with all of it. I also lived with her the second half of my MRSD year and she helped me get ready for MRA. She started really "coaching" me when I was 14 and having all that help for all those years really prepared me for competing for MRSD and MRA. Because of the help that I received from her, I now love to help girls and give back. You can say she inspired me to become MRA and now has inspired me to help others achieve their rodeo queen dreams!
What was the hardest part about being Miss Rodeo America?
I feel my year as MRA is most remembered by that fact that I was different. That was the year that Wrangler was really pushing the Rock 47 jeans and they were more trendy than the traditional wranglers. So I was wearing more trendy jeans, I wore knee length dresses or skirts, my jeans tucked into tall, fun boots, lots of jewelry and at the time that was different and out of the ordinary. I also did not wear any dyed jeans during MRA pageant or during my year and that was also different. I got a great deal of praise for being different and for stepping out of the box and opening a door for other girls to do the same, but at the same time some people did not like it. So I took some heat for not being traditional and being unique. I would say that that was probably the hardest part of being MRA. Everyone has their idea of what MRA should look like and when I did not fit that image for some, I felt I was not received very well. I learned to ignore that negative opinions and embrace the positive and I did not let anyone take the joy of that year away from me. Now when I look at what rodeo queens are wearing, they are wearing short dresses and skirts, fun tall boots and they are stepping out of the box and allowing their own style and personality come out in their wardrobe and I love it! So if I helped the rodeo queen world see its ok to be unique and its ok to embrace your own personal style then it was all worth it!!
If you could give one piece of advice to girls who are just starting out in the rodeo queen world, what would it be?
My biggest piece of advice is to stay true to who you are. Every one is different and that is what makes you beautiful and helps you to stand out. If you try to stay inside the box, or be like someone else you are hiding who you are and that will hinder your performance. Being confident and open with who are and allowing yourself to be vulnerable while competing allows the judges to get to know you and if they feel like they know you, they will like you! My other piece of advice is do not think that you have to wear certain clothing to win. Wear what you want, have your own style, be creative and have fun with your wardrobe! Whether you are traditional with your clothes, trendy, unique or vintage, wear what makes you happy and what makes you feel confident! A confident and genuine girl always gets noticed!
So many times contestants often feel the pressure of fitting into a mold and I'm really glad McKenzie shared with us what is was like to be different and to stay true to yourself. To this day we still see some of the trends she wore during her year as Miss Rodeo America being worn by current competitors. Don't get caught up in the mold and dare to be different, who knows it may even lead you to winning that ultimate title you've always dreamed about. Thank you again McKenzie for sharing some insight on year as Miss Rodeo America, especially how awesome it was that you brought the title back home to South Dakota for the first time in 26 years!!
Until next time,
Miss ORA Pageant
Photos courtesy of: McKenzie Vice