Cotton Pickin' Blessed
The past two weeks have literally been a blast from the past! A couple weeks ago I headed to the college where I graduated from, Murray State University. It was college rodeo week in Murray, Kentucky and lots of events were going on that I didn’t want to miss. Wednesday was the Special Rodeo put on by the MSU Rodeo Team and current queen, Miss Shelby Wright. I arrived bright and early after a couple hour drive to start meeting and greeting my special friends getting off the bus! As the students came in, one by one, Shelby and I talked to each one and gave them an autograph. They also received cowboy hats and bandannas for the fun day ahead!
There were a total of 34 kids ready to learn about rodeo and participate in the events and activities. Several different stations were set up where the students could interact with animals and the MSU Rodeo Team members. I also went around and visited all the stations and took part in the activities with the students. We raced bouncy ponies together, ran barrels together on foot, brushed the horses, and raced to get the ribbons off the goats! There was laughter to be heard and smiles to be seen all day at the expo center!
Muray, KY has lots of great college memories for me, but the one place that I wanted to visit was a bbq place downtown. Bad Bob’s was a restaurant that I didn’t find until my last year in Murray. I became addicted to their bbq sauce and in fact, buy it by the gallon now! When the special rodeo was over, I knew where I wanted to go eat and I am sure you can guess where that was. I grabbed Shelby and said lets go to Bad Bobs! I can’t believe that she had never been there! We also met my first rodeo queen director, Dr. Bellah for lunch. I haven’t seen her in a few years so it was great to all meet up! We walked into Bob’s and I ordered my normal bbq sandwich and then told the cashier I would like to have a gallon of sauce. Every single time, I get the funniest faces from the employees! She said, “you mean you want a whole gallon of mild sauce?” Yes ma’am, I do.
Lunch was wonderful with the MSU Rodeo Queen and director! I enjoyed getting to see the two beautiful ladies, but it was time to get on the road again. I came back a couple days later for the Friday and Saturday night performances of the college rodeo. I was taken back down memory lane as I rode in for a queen lap. It was this rodeo four years ago where I held my first queen title and loped around the arena then as Miss MSU Rodeo Queen. I would have never thought back in 2013 that I would be back in a short four years later as Miss Rodeo USA. DREAMS DO COME TRUE! I am here to tell you that! Never give up and always stay focused and you can achieve anything that you set your mind too!
Both nights I gave out several autographs, helped sell raffle tickets, ran into old friends, took several pictures, and had the best time in Murray. It was wonderful to look up in the audience and see my family sitting there along with about 15 members of my church family that I haven’t seen much of this year! I have the best support system and am so thankful for that!
This past week I headed to South Georgia for the 40th Annual Sunbelt Ag Expo. This year at the expo was a special year because it was the celebration for 40 years of this event in Moultrie, Georgia. I know you’re wondering what the Sunbelt Ag Expo is. This expo is very similar to the National Farm Machinery Show that is held in Louisville, Kentucky every year. The only difference is that it is completely outside and there are lots of GNATS! For those of you that live below the gnat line, I am so very sorry for that! But really, one of the cool parts of this expo is you don’t just look at agricultural equipment; you can go out in the fields and try it out. Everything is on demo either out in the fields or in the expo itself. You can drive the cotton picker or watch how peanuts are harvested, and test out the latest tractors. There are so many things to do for the agricultural enthusiast!
My part in the expo happens to be at the Priefert Horse Arena. As a previous Sunbelt queen, last year I had the wonderful opportunity to attend for the first time and learned how things go. This year I was honored to be back and of course, see my Georgia family! My former director, Cindy Wynn was there and I just love her to pieces! I also got to see many others that make these experiences so worthwhile. Wynn Custom leather was also there so I was able to spend time with JT and of course, thank him for his sponsorship to the Miss Rodeo USA Pageant. I was introduced each morning at the arena and took part in one of Cal Middleton’s equine demonstrations.
On Tuesday morning, I had the opportunity to assist in the ribbon cutting ceremonies to officially open the expo. There were over 150 people present and media such as tv stations from Savannah and local radio stations. Along with director Chip Blalock and many others, I helped with the ribbon cutting for this special year! Shortly after the ribbon cutting it was time for the main event that takes place at the airplane hangar, the Farmer of the Year Luncheon. This luncheon may only be a couple hours, but is something that farmers across 10 states have prepared for all year long. One farmer from each state represented in the Sunbelt region is selected as Farmer of the Year. This prestigious ceremony is a great event that represents all the great things that farmers do.
While standing up front greeting the over 500 people that walked through the doors, a gentleman came up to me and asked if I was from Kentucky. Turns out, that guy was Mr. Tim Thornberry with the Kentucky Farm Bureau magazine that did an article on me earlier this year! I just never know who I am going to run into! I also met two others with him who were also from western Kentucky. As the food was served, I found my way to sit with the other queens and their families. I happened to sit down by three gentlemen who were from Savannah, Georgia. They kept me laughing the entire time! I learned that one puts on the annual IPRA Ottawa Rodeo in Bloomingdale. These gentlemen were a hoot to sit by and I enjoyed talking to them!
Wednesday was a big day for the rodeo queens. Visiting rodeo royalty came to be introduced in the morning demonstrations. Every queen wore pink for Tough Enough to Wear Pink day! I proudly wore my Maid of the West Ranch Wear pink shirt! I was able to walk around a little bit and ended up in the Georgia Farm Bureau booth where I found the Georgia Grown shirt that was unveiled at the ribbon cutting the day before. This shirt was displayed in front a sign that read “our dirt grew your shirt” and was made 100% in Georgia. It was also screen printed by an agency with Georgia Department of the Blind and I think it’s wonderful that they partnered with this project. 38,000 t-shirts were made from 56 bales of cotton from Georgia.
I can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you about my adventures on the cotton picker! While in Georgia, I knew that I needed to get the complete Georgia Grown experience! Thanks to a dear friend, the Wheeler family for taking me to their farm for a ride on the cotton picker! I hopped on the picker with their farm hand to see how the machine works. I thought it was so neat, but of course very similar to the combine that I used to ride with my granddad when I was a kid. Each cotton bale wrapped in the field weighed 6,000 pounds! That can make a lot of t-shirts!
Thursday was the last day of the expo and I woke up with intentions of trying to find the grilled PB&J that I had been hearing about for the last few days. Being as Georgia is a major producer of peanuts, they know all about what peanuts can make! After a short golf cart ride, I found the Georgia Peanut Commission booth where the grilled PB&J were. One bite and I knew I was addicted! This new recipe is now one of my favorites and one that I will carry with me forever. After my PB&J breakfast, I headed back to the arena to be introduced to the crowd before the last Cal Middleton equine demonstration. At the end of the day, it was time to say my goodbyes to all of my Georgia family. I never knew that I would have made friends that are pretty much family to me all the way down in South Georgia. As we drive away from the 40th Annual Sunbelt Ag expo, I realize how cotton pickin’ blessed I am.
Halfway to Hazard
I had been looking forward to the Knott County Trail Ride ever since I learned about it in the spring of this year. Back in May, I visited Eastern Kentucky for a few days to promote their first rodeo in Knott County at the spring trail ride. I visited six schools in 2 days and did lots of marketing for their rodeo. This is when I met the wonderful people that reside in Hindman and the surrounding area. During this time, I also visited a sponsor that happened to be a nursing home. The residents and staff loved the day I was there and had “rodeo day”. Little did I know that Knott County appreciated my visit so much that they would have me come back in the fall.
That’s exactly what the Knott County Tourism Committee did; they booked me to come to their fall trail ride. I spent a few days prepping for the event by packing the horse trailer with feed, hay, and camping essentials. Making sure I had everything for my horses, queen attire, and food of course! This event allowed me to bring my own two horses and I was so excited for that! I quickly realized in the time that I had been packing, was that I had forgotten what it was like to pack up your horse along with your own belongings. I sure have missed that! It reminded me of my college rodeo days! Everything was put in the trailer and well organized. You know, that always happens when I pack but for some reason, it never goes back in the trailer that way, oops!
My alarm went off at 3:30 am on a Thursday morning and I rolled out of bed, did my makeup and hair, and had the horses loaded by 5 am. I say horses because I was super thankful and excited that my mom got to go on this trip and so I brought along old faithful for her. I set the GPS (because I am awful at directions, even at this late in the game) and headed East 5 hours across the state of Kentucky. It was such a pretty drive and became even better when we got halfway to Hazard. The trees were turning colors more and the mountains looked beautiful. The scenery just made you take it all in and I felt so thankful to be able to live this life and get to spend time with my horses and mom this weekend while I promoted the rodeo.
As the GPS ETA time was nearing, the roads were getting narrower. I turned off on a typical Eastern Kentucky road that winded around a mountain and then turned onto a 3 mile dirt road. Some of the turns were so tight that I wondered how tractor trailers even made it! Within about 30 minutes on the dirt road traveling 10 mph, I finally made it to the gatehouse at Mine-Made Adventure Park. I quickly found a familiar face from the spring and was warmly welcomed to the Knott County Trail Ride! Danny, member of the tourism commission, previously took me around to all of the events in the spring. He showed me where I was to park with the spot that he saved just for me! Upon arrival, I couldn’t believe that amount of horses, trailers, and campers that were already there. At that day they said they had 1600 people so far and they weren’t done coming yet! An overall count done on Saturday totaled over 4,000!
The talk had been that this trail ride was quite a large event, but I sure didn’t know how big until I arrived. You could see trailers parked for what seemed like all across the mountain and they were packed in as tight as they could be. As I drove by to my spot, everyone had their “homes” set up for the week and even included fall and Halloween decorations! Back in the spring, they held their first IPRA rodeo at the trail ride and everyone who passed through the gate was given a ticket to the rodeo. This time in the fall, there was no rodeo, but there were plenty of people there for one! After I settled my ponies (and my Mom) in, I took off with Danny and met other people that I missed from the spring. Everyone was so friendly and so happy that I was back! It was such a great feeling! After doing some promotion type work and talking to many folks, I headed back to my trailer for the night. It was wonderful to have my horses out my window again and have a different experience to remember for this event. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention – upon arrival and getting settled in, Danny brought over no bake cookies for me! Last spring we wanted to stop by this local Amish store because he said that they had the best no bake oatmeal cookies! They were closed when we stopped by and he surprised me with them Thursday!
It was advertised on social media that I was going to be in attendance and would be riding the trails with the guests. I saddled up my horse and took off around camp to meet new people and encourage them all to come back for the spring rodeo. Just by taking a few hours and talking to everyone who inquired what I was there for, I met so many wonderful folks! I took a short trail ride with a few of the people I met and then continued on with other events throughout the day.
Saturday is when the major events were happening. The concert headliner, Craig Morgan was coming to town, along with Taylor Short and Halfway to Hazard. It wasn’t long before I looked up and saw Craig Morgan’s semi parked by the stage. All I could think was I’m sure that truck driver did not like the roads he had to take to get here! The evening rolled around and it was time to do a balloon release in honor of Troy Gentry. Earlier in the year, Montgomery Gentry was booked and confirmed to perform at this trail ride. Due to the unexpected tragedy, their performance was cancelled. It was only fitting that a balloon releasing ceremony be held and the fans wore their batman shirts in honor of Troy as well – since he loved batman. I handed out balloons and met a little boy that will forever hold a spot in my heart. This sweet little boy was special needs, but he loved the balloon that I gave him. I told him to stay right there with his mom and I would be back with a picture for him. I signed both him and his brother an autograph and watched as they both smiled. It is moments like these that I love and will forever cherish. I don’t even know the little boys name, but I know that he is one of God’s angels and will grow up with such a big heart.
The tourism commission puts on the whole trail ride and organizes everything including the music artists. Perks of Danny’s job was getting to hang around back stage. This proved beneficial to me as well, because I got to hang around with Danny! We had the opportunity to talk to a few members of Craig’s band and then I got to meet Craig and get a photo with him! Later on, I helped present the best campsite awards and then get to listen to the concert. Taylor Short, a resident of Knott County opened the festivities. She was followed by the band Halfway to Hazard. If you haven’t heard of them, I suggest you look them up! I enjoyed their music and would definitely listen to it again. Finally, it was time for Craig Morgan! He put on a really good show and the crowd loved it!
Sunday brought rain and a morning full of saying goodbyes and packing. Thank goodness my mom was there to help because that made things a lot faster in the rain. I was soaked from head to toe, but it was all worth it! My horses were loaded up again and the trailer packed, it wasn’t quite as organized as the ride there this time. Westbound was our trail and we left all of the beautiful mountain scenery for the smaller, rolling hills of Kentucky.
Overall, this trip was one of my most memorable experiences of my year. What I remember most is how friendly the people were at this event. Even on the trail ride, almost every person that you rode by would smile, say hello, and ask how you were doing. This simple act of kindness goes so far and I will forever remember what I call one of the friendliest towns on earth, Knott County. It might have been goodbye, but I look forward to traveling east again next year to come back to the annual event! For now, I am off to more rodeos of the season and continued appearances!
Miss Rodeo USA
Follow the adventures of Miss Rodeo USA 2017 Brittany Howard as she travels the country representing the IPRA. Check back often for updates and new blogs!