In This Beauty Contest Western Style, Finessing the Equine Obstacle
Course Is a Must
by D. Lyn Hunter
In the sea of sensible sedans in the employee parking lot at Bancroft Way and Dana Street, one rough and tumble pickup truck towers above. With a rear-window sticker that reads "Wrangler butts drive me nuts," its clear that it belongs to someone with a different take on life.
The employee is Kimberly McDonald, by day a mild-mannered file clerk in the Development Office. But by night McDonald transforms herself into an aspiring rodeo queen and barrel racer. She has been riding horses for 19 of her 23 years and like a saddle or cowboy hat, the truck is a required tool of her trade.
"Rodeos are a dying art form," said McDonald. "In the old days, bronc riding and calf roping were a necessary part of everyday ranch life. Rodeos were a way for the hands to compete against each other and test their skills." But these days ranches have gone high-tech and require little of the horse handling skills that were once needed.
McDonald, and others like her, are determined to keep rodeos alive and educate the public about their history. So she decided to enter the 1995 Livermore Rodeo Queens Contest, billed as the world's fastest rodeo.
Running for rodeo queen is no pony ride. Unlike a typical beauty contest, rodeo queen contestants don't just have to look good. They have to look good while steering a galloping horse through an obstacle course. "Beauty isn't nearly as important as appearance in these contests, but you have to use lots of hair spray," she said.
Livermore Rodeo contestants are required to be single, have no children, be between 18 and 24 years old and be "wholesome." Once these requirements are met, months of preparation and conditioning follow.
First, McDonald and the others attended a seminar on appearance to give contestants pointers on make-up, wardrobe and hair styling.
Once McDonald's make-over was complete, it was time to start on her four-legged co-star--Barbie. But since Barbie already has perfect hair and flawless skin, McDonald focused on physical conditioning. The goal is to create the allusion of horse and rider as one fluid unit.
"Conditioning is a mental as well as physical endeavor," said McDonald. "If I'm nervous or scared, Barbie can sense that and it makes competing more difficult." The next hurdle was wardrobe. McDonald chose a black and silver motif topped off by a felt, "Cattle Rancher" style cowboy hat. For the formal portion of the contest, her mother hand-made a Spanish-style sequined jacket, accompanied by the requisite cowboy hat.
When the big day arrived, of the 11 women who originally registered for the competition, only six remained. The day was clear but windy and brisk, which makes the horses jumpy, said McDonald. She and Barbie were fourth in the line-up, which made it possible for her to check out the three contestants before them. They all missed parts of the required pattern around the ring.
Now it was their turn, but Barbie got "ring sour." Instead of going forward, she started backing up. "Using body language and voice commands, I got Barbie to enter the ring; once we got in, we did pretty good," said McDonald.
She headed down the homestretch with one more event to complete--the Dance and Coronation Ceremony. Here she was to have photos taken, socialize, sell raffle tickets and play hostess to her invited guests, then go up on stage for her runway walk and a question from the judges.
Finally it was time to announce the winner and the contestants were nervous, giddy and, well, chomping at the bit. "We all wanted to win the grand prize, a beautiful roping saddle, so badly," said McDonald. Another rider won the grand prize and the title of 1995 Livermore Rodeo Queen. "I felt she deserved it," said McDonald. "I was disappointed, but I was just glad it was over." But McDonald will soon be back in the saddle. She now is considering a run for Miss Grand National Rodeo.