Being a rodeo queen has become a way of life for 21-year-old Ashley Benedict.
She grew up with horses: Her mother, Mary Yount, always had horses and she remembers admiring rodeo queens as a child.
The first time she tried out she was the first runner-up. After that, she was determined to win her crown. Since then, she has been the 2003 Deer Park Pee Wee queen, the 2004 Tekoa Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association queen, the 2005 Tekoa Pro West queen and the 2006 Palouse Empire queen.
She took a year off to compete on the rodeo flag team and is now serving as the Cheney Rodeo queen for the second year in a row.
“Cheney is very inviting,” she said of her decision to try out again this year. She said she is often greeted by strangers with a smile and a “Hi-how-are-you.” She also considers the rodeo board as a second family.
Benedict will be joined by her horse, Abby, a 6-year-old quarter horse thoroughbred, this weekend during the festivities surrounding the 42nd annual Cheney Rodeo. She’ll be in the parade, the grand entrance ceremony, signing autographs, presenting a luncheon for sponsors and enjoying the events.
Competing to be a rodeo queen is different from other pageants, since contestants must demonstrate their horsemanship – they have to run a set pattern, show their ability to carry a flag and ride and work as one with their horse.
Besides that, Benedict said she has to give speeches and interviews and prepare a portfolio of her daily life to give the judges an idea of who she is away from the pageant.
“What you see in a pageant is really a dressed-up version,” she said.
She said that she doesn’t receive scholarship money for her service, but the Cheney Rodeo Association holds fundraisers for her travel to represent Cheney in other communities.
Benedict said after this weekend in Cheney, she’ll travel to the Springdale Rodeo, the Newport Bull Bash and more. Last year, she attended the Omak Stampede.
“The horses are so athletic,” she said.
She trains hard, too. Even with her duties as queen and a full-time job at Signs Now in Spokane Valley, she manages to make it up to her family’s farm in Chattaroy to train with Abby.
Benedict credits her mother and her stepfather, Randy Howells, with helping her in her duties. Last year when she had to be in downtown Spokane very early to appear on a morning news show, Howells got up at 2:30 a.m. to wash Abby and drive everyone to the studio. She said Howells doesn’t even seem to mind helping her with her appearance, sometimes choosing her lipstick colors. He writes cowboy poetry and Benedict said she keeps a poem he wrote about raising a rodeo queen in her truck.
“I’m very lucky,” she said. “I rely on them very heavily.”
When she gets a chance, she plans to watch the events at the rodeo. She said the bull-riding scares her, and she loves to watch the saddle bronco event and the barrel racing.
At events, she wears a crown on her cowboy hat, cowboy boots, curls her normally straight hair and makes sure her makeup is just right.
“I try to at least look the part,” she said.
She takes her duties as queen seriously. She knows that she is a role model for the little girls in pink cowboy hats and boots that come to the rodeo to see her.
“It literally makes their entire weekend.”