“The queen is one of the most important people at the rodeo.”
That’s not a direct quote, but maybe it could be.
Yet, there are still a sizeable number who’d argue the statement grudgingly that rodeo is a man and beast competition, cowboys, horses, bulls, and cowgirls in the barrel race.
“Rodeo queens are sometimes regarded as just wannabe cowgirls with shiny outfits, fancy hats and boots, who get in the way at rodeos and spoil the image of real rodeo action,” admitted Meredith Holland Thompson.
But, that’s definitely not the way it is today, she insisted, and is most emphatic in denying that misnomer.
“Rodeo queens are really the best ambassadors for the sport of rodeo. Their main objective is to tell the world about the amazing tradition of the Western way of life, and its continuation through rodeo with cowboys, horses and cattle,” said Thompson, who’s speaking from experience.
Growing up closely involved with family cattle operations, and riding and competing on horseback from a very early age, Thompson knows firsthand about all aspects of the rodeo way of life. That’s from personal competition, and closet family and relatives, all accomplished in the arena at the highest level.
“Rodeo has always been near and dear to my heart, and rodeo queens have the greatest opportunity to develop this same feeling among people who are far from the land. Those who have no idea that what they consider only a sport has grown as our country progressed, and through cattle industries closely related to it are an integral part of agriculture and the nation’s economy,” Thompson insisted.
Yes, rodeo queens are often viewed as colorful, most glamourous appearing cowgirls. But, they are in the position to tell rodeo’s story better than anyone, pointed out the cowgirl-at-heart, former queen and resounding worker for queen pageants, whose sole purpose is for advancement of the sport of rodeo.
“Committees, contractors and perhaps most of all rodeo contestants are busy. There’s so much to do when putting on a successful rodeo. Rodeo queens step in to help where needed at all times, and most importantly to help spread the true story of rodeo through public programs and presentations, attendance and helping with rodeos, horse activities and events of all kinds,” explained Thompson, who serves as coordinator of the Miss Rodeo K-State Pageant.
“Unless somebody’s been involved in a rodeo production, they really have no idea all that is required from the contractors, to the sponsors, to the contestants, most essential the paying spectators, everybody. People just have no clue have much dedicated hard work a rodeo requires, before, during and after the last bull has bucked,” Thompson insisted.
Consequently, and sadly for Thompson, and even more sad for the sport of rodeo itself, queen pageants are frequently one of the last things considered, of least importance still too often, and get shoved under the stack of papers. Whoever’s left can do that, and it’ll take care of itself seems a too common philosophy.
“That’s wrong,” Thompson demanded. “The rodeo queen pageant is just as hard work and requires as much if not more than the rest. It’s all important to a rodeo’s success, but the rodeo queen is an integral part of the success, and in reality, the future of the sport.”
Lack of leadership for rodeo queen pageants became most obvious to Thompson when she participated in them successfully. First being local event royalty, Thompson, then Meredith Holland, from the prominent rodeoing Holland family of Bucyrus, was first crowned Miss Rodeo K-State 2006, and then Miss Rodeo Kansas 2009.
“Those were experiences of a lifetime,” Thompson contended. “I will treasure my days as a rodeo queen forever not only from the most memorable times with the rodeo lifestyle from the smallest to the largest, but to all of the people I met, and countless acquaintances I’ve made who will always continue as my friends.”
However, there are two things that became most obvious to Thompson during her royalty reigns.
“First, I realized how very little the public knows about the sport of rodeo, its great Western tradition and impact the lifestyle had our country, and still does today. As the rodeo queen, I was so excited to share that information with everybody I came in contact with. I lived rodeo. I knew rodeo. There was no doubt I was talking about rodeo from experience and my heart,” Thompson said.
“Secondly, I found out how rodeo queen pageants were often considered completely unimportant to committees, when they were actually a very significant part of the best rodeos. I soon realized the rodeo queen contests require lots of hard work and dedication to be successful and serve the purpose for which they were originally intended,” she pointed out.
One of her main objectives in life today is to help conduct pageants, in which the newly crowned rodeo queen communicates to the general public all of the Western tradition in rodeo, the lifestyle itself, importance of the sport’s heritage in the growth our country and the impact that continues today..
Growing up in Johnson County with family livestock operations, Thompson participated in barrel racing and pole bending as a youngster. Her mother Michele never competed in rodeos or horseshow events, but is always a strong supporter of the family in competitions.
Best known, her dad and brother, Jim and JD, and cousins Luke and Rob, sons of uncle Harold, were and continue prominent team roping competition stars, while cousin Hannah rides tough at high school rodeos. Her cousin Jody has been a top rodeo contender, too.
“I feel so grateful growing up going to rodeos, and being in a family which rodeo is so important to all of us,” Thompson said.
When a Quarter Horse breeding program was developed, the family participated in the registered shows, typically in the timed competitions, including Thompson in her speciality barrels and poles.
“I rode in high school rodeos, other competitions, brought my horse to college, and became involved in the K-State Rodeo Club. I went to amateur events, jackpots and shows, but not the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association rodoeos, like my brother and cousins,” Thompson said.
Instead, she was intrigued by the queen pageant, competed, was crowned Miss Rodeo K-State, and made the most positive influence on the sport of rodeo in her yearlong reign.
Continuing studies, the cowgirl then pursued and was crowned Miss Rodeo Kansas. “My experiences in college rodeo were further enhanced during that reign as I better understood all levels of rodeo from the smallest amateur events to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association competitions,” Thompson continued.
After graduating from K-State with a degree in woman studies and a minor in public relations, Thompson married her husband, Trevor, who serves in the Army at Fort Riley, and the couple lives at Manhattan.
“We have a four-year-old daughter Madelyn, and our second daughter is to be born in four weeks,” said Thompson, who doesn’t have any horses of her own at the present. Her husband grew up in a rural community, but didn’t have any involvement with horses.
“It’s impossible to foresee our exact future with Trevor in the military, and he’s been deployed three times, including when Madelyn was born. But, Trevor’s home now, making it more exciting for the arrival of our second child. I never expected to be a military wife, but I’m so proud of it,” she said.
“Trevor has been learning to ride. Madelyn has horses in her genes, loves to ride already, and I expect we’ll be a horse family, too, at some point,” Thompson speculated.
Before continuing, the rodeo queen pageant coordinator expounded, “My closeness to military life, and the belief and desire of those in the service in the name our country’s freedom are such an inspiration. We’re all so fortunate to have those are willing to put their life on the line, so to speak, so Americans can have all the freedoms, so many today seem to take for granted.”
Then, Thompson pointed out, “Rodeo’s tradition has always been very patriotic. Every rodeo performance expresses appreciation for our country’s many freedoms through presentation of the American flag and singing of the national anthem, no matter how large or small the rodeo.
“Queens often present those beautiful colors in the grand entry, parades and other public affairs verifying how proud and patriotic rodeo is for being an American sport, and all of the freedoms offered to everyone who participate,” Thompson continued.
Happy as a Mom, and employed as a fitness instructor, Thompson remained close to rodeo after college and especially to the rodeo queen pageants.
“I was coaching contestants before being voted by the club to become the official queen pageant coordinator in 2013. To my knowledge, there had not been a coordinator since the ’90s. I have been helping put on the pageant since 2009. It is something I love to do, and I’m deeply committed, too,” verified Thompson, who is now taking graduate courses in family therapy.
The K-State Rodeo Club hosted a two-day K-State Queen Clinic in December with Thompson ramrodding the discussions on horsemanship, interviews, speeches, appearance, modeling and written testing.
“So many girls say they want to be a rodeo queen, but they really don’t have any idea what it involves. We were able to make them better informed,” Thompson said.
The 59th annual K-State Rodeo is set February 20-21-22, at Weber Arena on the north end of the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan. There’ll be a Fridayevening performance, Saturday matinee, Saturday evening show, and the finals performance at 1:30, Sunday afternoon.
“Coronation of Miss Rodeo K-State is at 7 o’clock, Saturday evening, before the rodeo starts at 7:30,” Thompson informed. Contestants will be introduced at every performance.
But, this year’s pageant is set February 13-14 at K-State. “Contestants will compete in horsemanship, personal interview, written test of rodeo, K-State, and equine knowledge, in addition to speech, modeling and photogenic competitions,” Thompson said.
Contestants are junior Allie Dywer and sophomore Sarah Rahjes. Danielle Stuerman serves and reigns as the 2014 Miss Rodeo K-State.
Interesting, two additional rodeo queens serve as members of the KSU Rodeo Club Executive Board. Brooke Wallace, Miss Junction City Rodeo, is the advertising chairperson, and Brooke Boyington, Miss Rodeo Phillipsburg, is the social chairperson.
“This is the first time that multiple queens have served, and I feel this demonstrates how rodeo queens have a very deep appreciation, dedication and knowledge of the sport of rodeo as a whole,” Thompson said.
Appreciation was expressed for those helping sponsor the pageant. “K-State alumni Erica Graham’s custom tack continues to be highly sought, and the rodeo queen pageant is pleased to have had her as our tack sponsor for the last three years. She creates custom award tack for each winner to use and keep.
“We have several alumni sponsors who truly bless our program with amazing, one-of-a-kind useful rodeo pieces,” Thompson appreciated.
Upon being crowned, the new Miss Rodeo K-State 2015 has a busy schedule. “Her main duty will be to tell the world about rodeo, its heritage, tradition, history and also represent Kansas State University,” Thompson said.
Already, there have been requests for the new queen to assist with and participate in rodeos and Western related activities across the state.
“Of course, the new queen will help in every way she can at rodeos she attends from being in the parades, to carrying flags, driving cattle to the pens, signing autographs, doing public presentations, whatever a rodeo committee, stock contractor or others involved in the rodeo need, the queen will be ready to assist,” Thompson assured.
Rodeo queens certainly are more than colorful glamourous cowgirls on pretty horses; they are the “best ambassadors of America’s original sport.”
“I can talk all day about rodeo queens and pageants, but the main thing is people must understand how important they are for every performance and the future of the sport of rodeo,” Thompson concluded