This weekend, 19-year-old Shelby Ross will ride into the Sister's Rodeo Arena on the back of her 18-year-old gelding, Boss, fulfilling her lifelong dream of being the Sisters Rodeo Queen. Ross, who grew up in Sisters and is currently studying Animal Equine Science at Oregon State University, remembers the first time she saw the Sisters Rodeo Queen. "I thought it was the coolest thing for the Rodeo Queen to come out all blinged out and shiny - she was just awesome," Ross says. "The second I turned 18, I tried out for rodeos."
You could say that Ross, who won the title of Sisters Rodeo Queen last year, has rodeos in her blood. Not only did she grow up attending the legendary Sisters rodeo every year with her family, but her mother, Melinda Witt, was St. Paul's Rodeo Queen 30 years ago. While much has changed over the course of 30 years, very little has changed about the rodeo.
"I think rodeo is sort of that all-American tradition, like baseball," says Witt. "It's a pretty tried-and-true American staple."
Legend has it that rodeo started when two cowboys wanted to settle an argument over who was best at ranching tasks. That initial competition has grown into a nationwide phenomenon, with rodeos drawing huge crowds to small towns across America. Sisters, which has a year-round residency of less than 2,000, expects 20,000 people, including visitors from Spain and Germany, to attend the rodeo.
The Sisters Rodeo is the third-largest rodeo in Oregon and the first Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) Rodeo in the state. All eyes will be on Ross at events during the weekend, including the famed parade through downtown Sisters. However, the rodeo queen is much more than the face of the rodeo. In addition to dressing the part, which includes pageant-like big hair, makeup and shiny cowgirl attire, Ross's duties include representing Sisters at rodeos across the Northwest and making appearances at local schools.
"It's really nice to have a role model for all the girls [in school]," says Ross of visiting and talking with students. "When I was in school, I loved that the rodeo queens came and talked to us. It's important to set a good example."
There may be no better person to represent the Sisters Rodeo than Ross, who has been riding horses since she was six years old. She competed in barrel-racing competitions growing up and is on the equestrian team at OSU. Ever since she was crowned rodeo queen, Ross has been traveling home on weekends to prepare for the big event.
"She's exceptional," says Bonnie Malone, Head of Media Relations for the rodeo. "In everything she does, even in her personal life, she's promoting the Sisters Rodeo."
Ross first proved her merit during the Sisters Rodeo tryout, which pitted her against five other qualified girls and included an interview, a speech and a riding portion. "I wanted this so bad, so I acted like I was on the top of the world and knew what I was doing," she says. "I just tried my best and it worked out - my wish came true."
The competition process proved to the Sisters Rodeo Committee that Ross had what it took to be Rodeo Queen. Likewise, Ross realized she had an aptitude for pageantry and is considering continuing in rodeo competitions and perhaps entering traditional beauty pageants. "It would be amazing to be Miss Oregon," she says.
However, this weekend, Ross is completely focused on the Sisters Rodeo. "It's the best rodeo ever," says Ross. "It really is the biggest little show in the world."