Rodeo Royalty: Beyond the Crown

17 Apr 2017

New week, new you! There is something about a Monday, about a new month, about a new season that brings a feeling of motivation & inspiration. However, these fresh starts come with their challenges; there is never enough coffee on a Monday morning, there is never enough hours in the day to accomplish all you had planned. But these trials are what make life interesting, right?


My second #BossBabe interview is with a gal that has experienced many of these mixed emotions of feeling excited, yet overwhelmed, with all kinds of new beginnings. Katherine Merck, aka Miss Rodeo America 2016, has experienced a variety of trials and tribulations in her time before, during, and after the crown. Not only is she one of the most down to earth people you will ever meet, filled with drive, spunk & grit, but she is also from my neck of the woods in Spokane, Washington! I am so excited to get to share this behind-the-scenes into her story in becoming Miss Rodeo America 2016!




1. Explain a little how you got started down the rodeo queen path? What about it appealed to you? When did you decided that you wanted to pursue a goal of becoming Miss Rodeo America?


I got involved in rodeo royalty when I was twenty-three years old and halfway through my first year of law school. The prior year, I had my jaw wired shut after medically necessary surgery and as part of the healing process, I wasn’t allowed to ride or spend time with my horses. I searched for ways to fill the void and continue to be involved in the equine industry. My best friend and reining trainer, “Uncle Eddie” Biegler is a retired saddle bronc rider who brought me a copy of “8 Seconds” about Lane Frost and recommended that I read about Bill Linderman. When Linderman suffered a string of injuries that prevented him from competing, he began judging rodeos and took on leadership roles in the Rodeo Cowboys Association (before it became the PRCA!). His dedication to our sport despite his injuries combined with Lane’s enthusiasm and kindness as an ambassador of rodeo inspired me to represent the sport that I love and the community that has given me so much. I thought it would be wonderful to represent my hometown, so I tried out for Miss Spokane Interstate Rodeo 2014. I had a fantastic summer of traveling to rodeos all over the Northwest, and in October 2014 I competed for Miss Rodeo Washington 2015, the title I took in to the Miss Rodeo America Pageant.


My college admissions essay was entitled “A Cowboy is Born, Not Made” because I didn’t grow up in a rodeo family, but found my way into the sport and western way of life at the age of twelve. Fair play, sportsmanship, and hard work are essential to succeed in our sport and humility, graciousness, and willingness to help fellow competitors are valued as highly in our community as success in the arena. I wanted to represent the sport and community that welcomed me with open arms and help to instill these values in the next generation while sharing our western way of life with others.


2. What was your favorite thing about being Miss Rodeo America?


As my friend and legendary steer roper Arnold Felts stated when asked about his roping career, “I did this because I loved it.” I loved every moment as Miss Rodeo America, from walking the red carpet at the Academy of Country Music Awards to washing horses and sorting stock, but one of my greatest joys was the people who have become my friends and rodeo family.  The most amazing part of the job was the opportunity to positively impact the people around me - the way that our rodeo community has impacted me. Looking back, I realize that the largest impact has been on me.

At the start of my reign, my motto was “nice matters.” Now, I think more about kindness. I was overjoyed when heroes of mine from Donnie Gay to President George H.W. Bush took the time to show me kindness, and in turn, I was even more rewarded upon seeing the same joy in other’s eyes when I did the same. I learned that the best gift you can give to another is to be kind to them, and I am grateful to live my life by the words “kindness matters.”


My year opened me up to new possibilities and taught me to be more adaptable and flexible than ever before.  Not one day as Miss Rodeo America was the same, so I learned to approach each new appearance and each new day free of expectations and as an opportunity to make a positive impact.  Throughout the year, I strove to make each event I attended better because I was there.  I chose to view my year as a year of service to the sport and community that have given me so much. I love meeting people, and as Miss Rodeo America I channeled my motto “live so enthusiastically you cannot fail” into promoting the sport of professional rodeo, creating new fans and ensuring rodeo’s legacy. The people I have met and the opportunity to make a positive impact on them without a doubt was my favorite part of serving as Miss Rodeo America 2016!


3. During your year of reign, you got to travel all over the country, and even to Australia! What were some of your favorite destinations and rodeos you got to attend


I was actually able to travel over 120,000 miles during my year, so it is so hard to pick some of my favorite places! Everywhere I went, the hospitality of our rodeo community was truly amazing and I loved the opportunity to learn about how the culture of different parts of the country impacts their rodeos. Australia definitely ranks as one of my favorite destinations! From snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef to presenting the American flag at the Australian National Finals Rodeo, it was truly a trip of a lifetime with two of my best friends, Miss Rodeo Canada and Miss Rodeo Australia 2016.

Cheyenne Frontier Days will always hold a special place in my heart because it is the first major rodeo that I attended…and it’s held on my birthday every year! This year they actually sang me “Happy Birthday” at their queen’s luncheon, I rode Guy Allen’s 1999 World Champion Steer Roping saddle in the parade, and I cracked a flower out of Rider Kiesner’s mouth with a bullwhip in front of thousands of people – the first time that I ever held a bullwhip! Cheyenne is full of rodeo history and it was truly amazing to ride in the same arena as so many of my heroes before me.


Two of my favorite rodeos that I attended were the Columbia River Circuit Finals in Yakima, Washington and the National Finals Steer Roping in Mulvane, Kansas. Of course, nothing can compare to riding into the Thomas and Mack in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo, but these two rodeos were special because of the people. Our Columbia River Circuit family was my support system going into the Miss Rodeo America competition – they let me learn and work behind the scenes at rodeos, borrow horses and put me through timer training to ensure that I knew the PRCA rulebook inside and out. After I won, they continued to book me for our circuit rodeos and it was truly a dream come true to be the first Miss Rodeo Washington to bring home the Miss Rodeo America title to my rodeo family. The National Finals Steer Roping has a completely different atmosphere than any other rodeo finals because they host only one event and fifteen contestants, which makes it even more of a family atmosphere. I loved waking up in the morning to work steers with the contestants and help in the rodeo office before changing into my queen attire for the rodeo in the evenings. I also participated in my favorite opening of the year at the NFSR – the contestants’ kids put together an opening to honor their dads and the steer ropers dismounted their horses when I presented the American flag so that they could stand for our National Anthem.


4. You are back at Gonzaga now finishing up your law degree, was it hard taking time off school to be Miss Rodeo America? Were there any other kind of sacrifices you had to make along the way?


I spent a total of three semesters away from Gonzaga, the first to carry out my duties as Miss Rodeo Washington and compete for Miss Rodeo America, and the other two during my year as MRA. The most difficult parts of taking time away from law school were watching my classmates graduate without me and then transitioning back into classes after traveling full time. I am so grateful to Gonzaga University School of Law for allowing me the leave of absence to follow my dream and to the faculty, staff and my classmates for supporting me throughout my year and while I finish my degree. I truly will never be able to thank the Miss Rodeo America Scholarship Foundation enough for their contribution to my future, which will allow me to graduate this December completely debt free. This organization has given me the freedom to follow my dream of helping farmers and ranchers through agricultural estate planning, land use, and water rights. While taking time off of school has its challenges, it was more than worth it both for the experience and the opportunities it has created for me.


Miss Rodeo America is portrayed as a glamorous job on social media, but there is so much more to the title than meets the eye. Traveling over 120,000 miles meant that I went several months at a time without seeing my family, my dog and my horses. I talked to my family on the phone, but it was particularly hard to be away from Snoopy, my twenty-eight year old horse, and Frosty, my now two-year-old filly that I bred and raised. Of course, I knew that they were in good hands with my family. The travel also meant long hours in airports, very little sleep, and living out of a suitcase! I am so grateful for each and every family that took me in on the road and for everyone that gave me a cup of coffee during my year – a typical night’s sleep was only a few hours between travel, rodeos, appearances and interviews!

As my mother says, “you can have anything, but you can’t have everything.” Every single sacrifice I made to become Miss Rodeo America and during my year was more than worth it because of the experiences, the opportunities, and most of all the people.


5. For the girls out there that don't have much experience into the rodeo queen life, what does it truly take to be one? What important skills and traits does it take?


There is so much more to being rodeo royalty than wearing a crown on your cowboy hat! First, the moment that you become a titleholder, it is no longer about you. You represent the sport of rodeo, your hometown, agriculture, your sponsors, and an entire way of life. It is an incredible opportunity for growth that allows you to gain valuable life skills including public speaking and interview experience. This journey has truly changed me for the better and will continue to shape my life long after I handed down my crown. Rodeo continues to evolve with our modern Western lifestyle while maintaining our traditions and close-knit community. Serving as an ambassador for this amazing sport is an opportunity to promote our values and give back to our community.


Many people don’t realize that a rodeo queen pageant consists not only of the traditional pageant events of public speaking, extensive interviews, current event questions, and of course a fashion show, but also includes horsemanship and a written examination on equine science and rodeo knowledge. A rodeo queen is truly the “face of rodeo” and needs to be able to explain our sport to first time rodeo attendees and schoolchildren as well as newspaper and television reporters. While visiting a kindergarten class in Colorado I was asked, “where do baby horses come from?” You truly do need to be able to think on your feet! (Don’t worry, I told the sweet little five-year-old that baby horses come from mommy horses!).


The three main categories at the Miss Rodeo America Pageant are appearance, personality, and horsemanship – weighted equally. As a representative or rodeo, horsemanship is integral to a title. Many people will only ever see a rodeo queen on a horse in the arena or in a parade and our horses are what truly set us apart from other royalty. My travel schedule as Miss Rodeo America didn’t allow me to travel with a horse, so I borrowed over a hundred horses ranging from quiet, bombproof pickup horses to retired bucking horses and high-strung steer wrestling horses! As a rodeo queen, I truly believe that you are a cowgirl first and a queen second.


My time as a rodeo queen taught me to be more adaptable and flexible than ever before. During the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Florida the committee signed me up for a fully Spanish-speaking interview…and I don’t speak Spanish! Thank goodness the contestant that was participating in the interview with me was bilingual and taught me several lines right before the camera started rolling. Not only did schedules and plans change continually at the last minute, but I also had to be prepared to handle every situation and every question with poise and grace. Serving as a role model for young women, it is important to be cognizant of how your actions and your social media will be perceived by others. Like I mentioned earlier, your actions as a titleholder reflect on your association and your sponsors. When you win the title, you are accepting a position in public relations and marketing – you are marketing your association, your sponsors, your hometown and most of all the sport of rodeo.


A true queen knows that the crown on her head is given to her not so that she can be served, but so that she has the opportunity to serve others. From making one little girl’s day by making her feel like she, too, could be a queen, to sharing rodeo knowledge or helping a rodeo committee without expecting any recognition, being a rodeo queen is truly about serving others. A rodeo queen should be more than just a representative of our sport – she should be an integral part of the team. She should a hard-working cowgirl ready to do whatever needs to be done.  She should be behind the scenes as much as she is in the limelight, and treat everyone from the gate man to the world champion cowboy with kindness


6. How has your life been since passing on your title?


Honestly, I thought that once I handed down my title things would slow down a little bit but they haven’t! I am actually overloading on credits right now at law school so that I can graduate new December (just in time for the NFR!), tutoring the first year students in property law and traveling almost every weekend staying involved in both the rodeo and rodeo queen world. Cervi Championship Rodeo hired me along with last year’s Miss Rodeo Colorado, Madelaine Mills, to spend three weeks at Rodeo Houston managing their saddle horses and pivot girls. Thank goodness that spring break fell in the middle of that! I’m really enjoying giving back to the next generation of cowgirls by serving on the Miss Rodeo America National Advisory Council, teaching at different clinics throughout the country, and coaching up and coming rodeo queens. When I’m in Spokane I keep busy between studying, riding my horses and spending time with my family. I’ll be studying International Human Rights this summer in Florence, Italy, so Miss Rodeo Canada 2016 Samantha Stokes and I are heading over before my courses start to spend some time in France! After Italy I will be in Cheyenne, Wyoming for the rest of the summer working for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association as a legal intern.


7. Can you give some advice to the young women out there that hope to one day accomplish everything that you have and become Miss Rodeo America?


My best advice to young women is to learn who you are – your strengths, your weaknesses, and your values – and strive to be the best version of yourself every single day! As Oscar Wilde said, “be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken.”  There is no “cookie-cutter” rodeo queen – I wasn’t the same as Chenae, Paige or Lauren as Miss Rodeo America, I brought my own talents and gifts to the title. Don’t try to craft yourself into the rodeo queen or Miss Rodeo America that you idolize or made a lasting impression on your life…develop your own personality and tell your story!

Before competing for a rodeo queen title, ask yourself why you want to win and if you are prepared to devote the time and work it takes to win the crown, and if you are willing to be fully dedicated to the title as well. It is easy to get caught up in the idea of winning and, if you win, of attaining the next title, but your first goal should be to become the best version of yourself. Dedicate yourself not only to becoming the titleholder, but also to becoming the best titleholder that you can be. Remember that you wear the crown to serve others through hard work and kindness. I truly believe in my motto of “kindness matters” and as my friend, and founder of the Good Girl Movement, Alexis Bloomer would say, work hard and be kind!


Okay ladies, after reading that, do you think you have what it takes to be Rodeo Royalty? Katherine's story is nothing short of inspiring; from being the best version of your unique self as possible, to scattering kindness around like it's glitter, this woman makes me want to get out there and accomplish all of my dreams!



I hope this interview inspires you all the same as it did me! Clothes will go in & out of style, looks will fade, but kindness is eternal & can make an everlasting impression on someone's life. I love how Katherine emphasizes the power behind being a good person, because it applies not only to being a public figure, such as Miss Rodeo America or a Professional Rodeo Athlete, but it matters in your everyday life as well.


Make sure to follow Katherine on Instagram to keep up with her kindness, style, animals, and some serious hat envy!

Have a fantastic week, y'all! As always, stay wild gypsy child.


xoxo West Desperado


All photos provided by Katherine Merck


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