By SRIANTHI PERERA, GSN Contributor
Four young horsewomen have been promoting the Gilbert Days Rodeo around the Arizona rodeo circuit since spring.
The two sets of sisters – Rodeo Queen Kennadee Riggs and Missy Raylen Riggs and Teen Queen Karlie Brewer and Princess Lindsey Brewer – comprise the Gilbert Days Rodeo Court this year.
“The common conception is that we’re basically beauty queens that wear hats,” said Kennadee, 18. “It’s a lot more.”
“It’s a lot of hard work to get there,” added Karlie, 17. “A lot of them have that misconception it’s a beauty pageant, you just go in the beauty pageant and you’re done, you’ll get a crown and a buckle. It’s a commitment.”
For starters, way before the first cloud of dust stirs in the Gilbert arena, they have been active.
With their platform of community service under the banner of “Kicking up Kindness,” they have been collecting stories of kind deeds from the public. As ambassadors of Western heritage, they have been visiting schools and fostering a love of horses and an equestrian lifestyle among students, where the values of cowboys and cowgirls, such as respect and integrity, are upheld.
Then, almost every day they work on their horsemanship and care for their animals.
All this while attending school, maintaining good grades, playing sports, and being involved in 4-H, the Cowgirls Historical Foundation and other groups and clubs.
The queen role is special.
Besides being able to brag to their friends about it, the teens are pleased at the chance to develop various skills.
The chief among them is people skills.
Kennedee hopes to attend the Water Cronkite School at Arizona State University for broadcast journalism.
“Just being in this environment, being able to speak to other people and being an advocate for the sport of rodeo has been awesome practice for that, too,” she said.
Karlie said she uses her skills as a rodeo queen daily, talking to people. She has also developed a love for animals and hopes to study to become a veterinary technician.
“The skills carry over so much to everything, whether it’s trying out for a part in a play, talking to people, meeting people at the beginning of the school year,” Lindsey said. “It can be so much easier once you know how to make connections and how to just really talk to people and not be afraid to do it.”
Just 12, Raylen is the baby in the group. “I play softball and I’m in cheer,” she said, adding “having Karlie, Kennadee and Lindsey, I’ll always look up to them and all their skills.”
During the rodeo, they are stars, showing off their horsemanship inside the arena and interacting with the crowds in the stalls and tending to animals behind the scenes.
“We do a hot lap and show your rodeo and try and get the crowd excited,” Karlie said. “My favorite part is going on foot and going up in the stands and talking to people. You give out autograph cards, you talk to little kids. I want to be able to share the love that I have with the little kids, that’s what I try and do.”
The teens were crowned in March, giving them plenty of time to prepare for this.
“By then, they’re communicating well with each other, the horses are used to each other and they have spent time on traveling together,” said Julee Brady, who oversees the court. “By the time Gilbert comes up, they’ve got to advertise Gilbert all through the year as they’re visiting other events.”
This isn’t the first time that two sets of sisters make up the Gilbert Days Royalty.
When Kennadee and Raylan’s mom Shanda Brady Riggs was the queen in 1998, her sister Kelsee was Rodeo Princess. Another set of sisters, Katie Schmidbauer and Sarah Schmidbauer, were Teen Queen and Rodeo Missy, respectively.
Shanda, incidentally, also created the Kickin’ Up Kindness platform to showcase kind deeds that year – a tradition that is still being followed 20 years later.
In 2010, Gilbert Days created a Gilbert Rodeo Royalty Legacy Court when the Gilbert Promotional Corporation, who puts on Gilbert Days Rodeo, lost its usual venue located on Val Vista and Ray roads due to concerns of it being atop a landfill.
As the search for a new location was being pursued, the Gilbert Rodeo Royalty Legacy Court was named to continue the traditions of Gilbert Days Rodeo.
Even earlier, the role has been passing over generations. Kennadee’s great grandmother became the Reno Rodeo Queen in 1950, and she walks in the footsteps of her mom Shonda and her aunts, who have held local, state and even nationwide titles over the years.
In this day and age, nurturing the sport of rodeo or growing Arizona’s Western heritage in the East Valley seems all but impossible, but these diehard equestrians plod on.
The Riggs and the Brewers live in Queen Creek, where it’s easier to own equestrian property, compared to Gilbert. Brady herself lives in North Mesa.
“We believe that in the flat-face surface of computers where there’s people that are not moving in like a real dimensional world, our world is so dimensional,” Brady said. “You can see the dust, you can hear the horse hooves, you can hear the sound of the thunder of the hoofs; everything is so richly dimensional.”
Brady said the horse industry in Arizona, an industry worth $1 billion, is a boon to the state.
There are some horse properties still in Gilbert, but there are very few developers creating more horse properties because of the value of the land, Brady said.
“We’d love it if people could adapt to it, but we understand that actually, financially, it’s an expensive thing to do,” she said.
Judging by the Royalty Court, dressed in colorful embroidered outfits, coiffed and hatted, and poised and self-assured atop their horse or on the ground, growing up in the lifestyle certainly has its benefits.
“I’m not new to rodeos, but I’ve never actually been a queen, so this is my first year of doing this,” Raylen said. “My mom rode a week before she gave birth to me, so I’ve been riding for a long time.”
“We definitely grew up going to those rodeos, watching all of our family members participating in it as well,” Kennadee said. “It’s kind of what sparked the love that we have in our hearts for Gilbert Days Rodeo.”
You can meet the Gilbert Days Rodeo Court during the Gilbert Days Parade on Saturday, Nov. 17, in Downtown Gilbert or during the Gilbert Days Rodeo to be held Nov. 16-18 at the John Volken Academy in southeast Gilbert. Details: gilbertdays.org