After winning the Miss Rodeo Washington Pageant in October 2019, Madi Casto filled her 2020 calendar with rodeos.
She was prepared to attend rodeos all over the state of Washington, as well as some in Denver, Las Vegas and other cities of the western United States.
“Even though it’s January, it’s gonna go so quickly,” she said four months ago.
But now, like so many people, the 26-year-old Casto finds herself at home a lot more, with ample time to prepare for the year-end competition at the National Finals Rodeo, which at this point is still on as scheduled, Casto said.
The COVID-19 pandemic response has given Casto time to study for those exams and ride horses – two things that, ironically, under normal circumstances she would need to cram into her schedule.
“Normally I’d be traveling so much, I would be trying to test myself on flashcards in an airplane or in an Uber,” Casto said last week. “It’s given me time to slow down and do what I need to do to prepare. For me, that’s the silver lining.”
Her goal is to ride 100 different horses as part of her horsemanship preparation.
“I’ve been trying to find people I know that I can social distance from,” Casto said last week. “Horses don’t like to be closer than 6 feet. It’s pretty easy.”
As Miss Rodeo Washington this year, Casto serves “as a goodwill ambassador in the State of Washington for the sport of professional rodeo,” according to the organization’s website, and then gets the opportunity to compete for the Miss Rodeo America title in conjunction with the NFR in December in Las Vegas.
That national competition runs for a week and includes a written test on rodeo and horse science, extemporaneous speaking, interviews, a fashion show and a horsemanship competition, which is at the core of what being Miss Rodeo Washington is all about, Casto said.
“First and foremost, a rodeo queen is a horsewoman, confident on the back of a horse,” she said. “Someone who can handle a horse in many situations.”
That suits Casto, who said she grew up in Otis Orchards “like any other horse-crazy kid.” She started riding at age 2, on an old horse named Missy. In third grade she bought her first horse, Dusty, and started a 10-year run competing in 4-H.
When she enrolled at Eastern Washington University, she kept her horse and found that being around them was the best part of her day.
“One of the biggest roles for Miss Rodeo Washington is being a spokesperson, and I couldn’t think of a better way to show enthusiasm for (this) way of living,” she said. “It feels like it’s a part of everyday living.”
Accordingly, in 2014 she ran for and won the Miss Cheney Rodeo title, and then ran for Miss Spokane Interstate Rodeo in 2016, winning that pageant, too. That led her to compete for Miss Washington, a title that endures though currently she has no official duties, she said, with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association yet to hold any rodeos this year.
“I’m staying as positive as possible because it’s just easier to quarantine that way,” said Casto, who is “on standby” from her day job as an associate planner for the Kalispel Tribe. “It’s taken an adjustment. I’m not a person who sits still.”
She has realized, too, how much she values various sports, not just rodeo.
“The world hasn’t stopped spinning because we didn’t have March Madness, but boy does it enrich our lives,” she said. “When it comes back, it’s gonna be such a feeling.”
Rodeo’s comeback is beginning soon: Cave Creek, Arizona, is set to hold its Rodeo Days this Friday through Sunday, without fans. At least 30 rodeos are planned throughout June nationally, according to the PRCA’s official schedule, and the Cheney Rodeo is still listed as scheduled for July 10-12.
But even without the competitions so far this year, the work of rodeo doesn’t stop, Casto said.
“It’s a livelihood that is tied to a lifestyle, so a lot of rodeo events you see are correlated to real-life, ranch-type jobs,” she said. “Spring branding is right now … tie-down is the same thing.
“My horses are still eating food and need to get ridden. We’re still riding. There’s still work to be done.”