SHERIDAN — The year is 1965 and all of a sudden Emma Jean Heach Hando (El) was in the Sheridan County Fairgrounds arena awaiting her run in front of the grandstands to be judged by an applause meter. As she began her official ride as a contestant in the Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen competition, the cannon clock went off, which spooked her horse. The young woman had a deep seat and a long reign as her horse bucked back and forth across the arena. With grit and grace, the contestant was able to ride the bronc to the end, only to be crowned as Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen 1965 as the crowd hooted and hollered over her horsemanship.
This story is shared between belly laughs and elbow pokes to correct details fogged over the years by four previous Sheridan WYO Rodeo queens who gathered at the announcement of the Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo 2020 Thursday.
The event was held at The Hub on Smith for the first year ever, allowing a different crowd to experience the coronation.
As they watched the current contestants mingle, the previous queens recalled memories of the competition from so long ago.
“It’s so much more complicated now,” Tempe Johnson Jasite, Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen 1969, said. “I wouldn’t trade my pageant experience for anything.”
Jasite recalled all 10 of the girls who competed with her completed their reining patterns wrong. Judged by a well-known cutting horse trainer, the judge had each girl switch horses with another girl to redo the pattern. When Jasite realized she was going to be put on a big roping horse who ran away his rider, she immediately threw her spurs under the fence and climbed on without fear. The horse began to run away with Jasite, so she put her hand on the roping horse’s neck to stop him. As the horse slid to a stop and covered the judge in dirt, Jasite was greeted with a muddy smile, which is how she knew she had earned the title of Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo 1969.
They might not be dressed in buckles, sashes and crowns anymore, but the elegance of rodeo queens still radiate from the women who participate.
“I learned so much about myself and I gained a new level of confidence from being a rodeo queen. I don’t think it made me who I am today, but I bet I can contribute a lot of who I am because of my title,” said Diana (Gorzalka) McKenzie, Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen 1960.
A new queen is crowned every year, replacing the royalty before her. The legacy of being Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen has started to resonate through generations, continuing legacies of past queens. In the 2020 competition, three girls share blood with past queens.
“This makes me want to go back,” Hando said. “Once you’re in the organization, it’s something you will never get out of your blood.”
Marva Craft, a WYO Rodeo Board liaison, was Sheridan’s Rodeo Queen in 1971. Craft is also a dedicated grandmother to Paige Craft, 2019’s Junior Rodeo Princess. Craft has been honored to watch her granddaughter excel in the rodeo pageant and she’s excited to see her continue pursuing a western lifestyle.
“It’s been fun for us to be able to take this journey with her because she’s so natural when it comes to horsemanship and she’s quite the charmer,” Craft said.
Craft hopes that her granddaughter has learned the same level of grace that she learned in 1971 as a rodeo queen.
The Crafts aren’t the only family continuing a legacy within the rodeo royalty. The newly-crowned rodeo queen, Shayla Conner, has a deep connection to the pageant through her grandmother, Carolyn Small Martin, who was queen in 1958.
“I’m so excited for this new journey to start,” Conner said. “It’s such an honor following in my grandma’s footsteps. My family is huge on traditions so coming in and keeping that tradition is a really special moment for us.”
“As she enters this role, I want her to be confident, brave and strong… And I’d tell her to always thank her sponsors,” Martin said.
Grace VanDyke was crowned 2020 Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo Junior Princess. Jentry Reid was crowned the 2020 Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo Princess; Hannah Jost was crowned the 2020 Senior Princess; and Shayla Conner was crowned the 2020 Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen.