Brittany Howard and Jocee Neal are spending most of 2017 on the road, promoting the sport of rodeo and Western culture.
A native of Slaughters, Kentucky, Howard was named Miss Rodeo USA 2017 earlier this year. Neal, who hails from northeast Texas, became the newest Miss United Professional Rodeo Association in November 2016.
Howard and Neal are in Ada this week to judge the rodeo queen contest at the Ken Lance Memorial Championship Rodeo, set for today and Saturday at Three Crosses Arena in Stonewall. The women spent about an hour Wednesday at the Dirt Road Divas and Kids store inside the Ada Mini Mall, 119 N. Broadway.
The Ada News interviewed Howard and Neal about their experiences as rodeo royalty. Here are questions and answers from those interviews, edited for clarity and length.
The Ada News: Tell me about the Miss Rodeo USA pageant, please.
Brittany Howard: It’s a weeklong pageant that happens in Oklahoma City in January, and it happens the week of the International Finals Rodeo. During the week, the contestants all stay in a hotel there and have a roommate, and we do personal interviews in the morning — media interviews.
We have modeling and speech competitions, impromptu questions and a 15-page written test. Pretty intense competition.
Horsemanship is the biggest part at 30 percent of our score, so it’s really important that you know how to ride — and not ride your horse. You ride draw horses, too.
The Ada News: Was this your first time competing in this pageant?
BH: It actually wasn’t. It was my second time competing in the Miss Rodeo USA pageant.
I qualified to go when I was in college at Murray State University (in Murray, Kentucky) as their queen, and I went then to Miss Rodeo USA for the first time in 2014. I didn’t come back until this year.
The first time, I was really new to rodeo queen pageants. I didn’t have a lot of experience, didn’t really know what was going on.
So definitely, I improved a lot on almost every category. I knew what to work on, and I just went after it and stayed dedicated and focused and did it.
The Ada News: What made this the year for you to compete again?
BH: I won a title out of Moultrie, Georgia, as their Miss Sunbelt Rodeo Queen. Being that title is what qualified me to go back to Miss Rodeo USA.
You don’t have to have a title, but it does help as far as someone’s already given you your buckle and your crown and things like that. So I just was really determined and focused to go back, and I wanted to do well and wanted to win. You’ve got to have that determination and drive.
The Ada News: As the new Miss Rodeo USA, your reign will last for a year. Is that correct?
BH: One year. So next year in January, when Oklahoma City does the IFR, I will be back in town and promoting. And then at the end of that, I’ll go through the pageant with the girls, and then I’ll hand down the crown.
It’ll be a crazy, fast year. I’m the first to be from Kentucky, so that’s been exciting this year — getting to go to places and be the first Kentucky cowgirl.
The Ada News: So, your responsibilities are acting as a role model and promoting the sport of rodeo and Western culture. Do you have a platform you speak about?
BH: I do. When I speak to kids, it’s called “Staying Focused.” Sometimes I’ll say “Staying Focused on the Ride” if I’m talking to a group of rodeo or horse-related, equine-related people.
And what I mean by that is, you need to focus throughout your life. You need to set goals and decide what the best way is to achieve them. And usually, you’re going to focus. You’re going to work hard, be determined. All those things go into being focused.
That’s what I did to win the crown, and I feel like it works.
The Ada News: How did you win your title?
Jocee Neal: I competed in horsemanship, where we’re given a reining pattern. And then personal interview, impromptu speech and modeling.
It is all in conjunction with the Cinch UFR, which is the UPI finals held in Sulphur Springs, Texas. That is every year, the weekend right before Thanksgiving, and it’s all weekend long.
The Ada News: Is this your first time competing in this particular pageant?
JN: I’ve competed since I was 5 years old in several different pageants and won several different titles.
This is my second time competing for the Miss UPRA title. I was first runner-up the year before and then came back and won.
The Ada News: What did it feel like to win the title?
JN: It was one of those moments where hard work really paid off.
When I won my very first title, my current queen at the time went on to win Miss UPRA. And since I was 10, I was like, “I want that crown. It’s going to be mine.”
And so, just a sense of accomplishment, really. And, obviously, happiness.
The Ada News: As the reigning title-holder, how long does your reign last?
JN: One year, so from finals to finals.
The Ada News: And what are your responsibilities during that year?
JN: The UPA covers eight different states, so I travel to all the different states and I’m here at rodeos, events and whatever they need. I can do a lot of PR stuff — very promotional, promoting sponsors on Facebook, different things like that. Whatever we can do to help that committee is what we do. …
Since I was crowned in November, I’ve had maybe three weekends off the entire time. So I’m on the road constantly, all the time, different places, doing whatever I can to help.
The Ada News: What has that experience been like for you?
JN: It has been a whirlwind of excitement, most definitely. There’s never a dull moment. There’s always something unique about each town I go to and the experience there.