Miss Rodeo America brings passion for horses, love of Western way of life to Greeley Stampede for first time in a decade | TheFencePost.com

Miss Rodeo America brings passion for horses, love of Western way of life to Greeley Stampede for first time in a decade

As a child, Katherine Merck always wanted a horse. The 2016 Miss Rodeo America giggled, the bling on her crown, vest and jewelry glinting when she said she was like most little girls in that respect.

So Merck's dad promised the then-12-year-old if she could come up with half the money for a decent starter horse — $750 at the time — he would match it. She hoarded her babysitting money and picked up odd jobs around the neighborhood until she'd saved enough to buy half a horse.

That's how bad she wanted it.

When at 23, she had her jaw wired shut after surgery, she started studying up and learning everything she'd need for her first rodeo pageant, Miss Spokane Interstate Rodeo. It took a lot of work, because most rodeo pageants are more education and horsemanship than anything else, she said. But she took the time and won that first pageant. Then, she won the second one to become Miss Rodeo Washington. Then, she won the third — Miss Rodeo America.

That's how bad she wanted it.

Now, she's bringing that drive and love for the sport of rodeo to the Greeley Stampede, home of the Miss Rodeo Colorado pageant. Merck's visit marks the first time in nearly a decade a Miss Rodeo America has appeared at the Greeley event.

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Merck will appear in various events during the Stampede, including carrying the American flag during rodeos and riding in the daily parade in the park.

Merck also will attend the Miss Rodeo Colorado pageant events and support the girls competing, along with reigning Miss Rodeo Colorado Madelaine Mills. Eight finalists are still in the running for the crown, including two Weld County contestants, Kelsie Winslow of Pierce and Mandi Larson of Erie.

Both Merck and Mills use their crowns — Merck's is made of Black Hills gold, pearls and alexandrite, and Mills' crown is made of silver and turquoise — to advocate for agriculture, something both women have been passionate about since they were children. Merck attends law school and hopes to someday serve on the Washington Supreme Court to champion ag land and water. Mills has her bachelor's degree in mass communication, which she hopes to use to go into marketing for the agricultural industry.

"Rodeo queens do promote the entire agriculture industry and Western way of life," Merck said. "We breathe it every day."

Whether it's rodeo or cropland that holds your heart, it's all connected, Mills said.

Mills, a Castle Rock native who grew up competing in rodeo and started participating in pageants in 2007, will compete for the title of Miss Rodeo America at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas this November. ❖

Miss Rodeo Colorado events

Horsemanship competition — Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., Island Grove Arena, free to attend.

Speeches — Thursday at 10:30 a.m., 4-H building at Island Grove Regional Park, $5 to attend.

61st Annual Fashion Show and Coronation — Friday at 4:30 p.m., Hensel Phelps Theater at the Union Colony Civic Center, 701 10th Ave. in Greeley. General admission tickets cost $40 each and are available at the UCCC box office or by calling (970) 356-5000.