On a rainy Saturday afternoon in early October, close to 50 young women gathered at the New Castle Library for the first annual Western Slope Rodeo Royalty Clinic, a one-day crash course in etiquette for this year's rodeo queens, princesses and princess attendants.
The girls, many wearing cowboy hats with bejeweled crowns, sparkly shirts and fancy sashes emblazoned with their titles, enjoyed a formal luncheon in the library's community room and heard from speakers such as Cassidy Cabot, Miss Rodeo Colorado. All the girls eagerly lined up for photos with the 23-year-old Cabot, who is from Bayfield and enjoys her job as the face of Colorado rodeo.
"I plan to try out for Miss Rodeo USA," she said with a smile that remained bright and cheerful for each picture.
Garfield County 2013 Rodeo Queen Attendant Alli Sexton, 13, and twin co-princesses Katy and Karly Manupella, 12, mixed with royalty from Beaver Creek, Collbran, Eagle County, Gunnison, Montrose and Snowmass.
Sexton said the whole experience has changed her life. She started off as princess last year.
"At first, I thought, 'It's going to be so boring'," she remembered. "But, I learned things about myself that I didn't know."
As queen attendant, Sexton is in her second year as royalty, and that means more responsibilities.
"If the queen can't show up, I will take her spot," she explained.
Annie McNeel, in her second reign as Garfield County's rodeo queen, is in her first term at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. That means Sexton is very busy.
"I have to be the leader," she said.
But she doesn't seem to mind. She's getting to know new people, a new royalty horse, and enjoys her newfound self-confidence.
"It's definitely been an experience," she said.
Joyce Gornick of the Garfield County Fair Board helped organize the event with volunteer Lyndsay Jo Smith. Gornick noted the clinics, which teach girls how to comport themselves as young ladies, are usually held near Denver or Colorado Springs.
"That's an expensive trip for those of us from the Western Slope," she said. "We thought we'd offer something here so they could get an education as far as representing their counties and rodeos."
And that's exactly what rodeo royalty do all year long. The girls travel around the state, representing their communities at lunches, dinners and other events. Gornick said they need to know what's appropriate behavior in public and what's not.
"They do have to be taught that they are served from the left [at formal meals] and it's not 'pass the plate'," she said, just as a young lady-in-training at a nearby table licked chocolate mousse from the back of her spoon. "If a girl sits there and stuffs her mouth, someone's going to notice."
But it's not all table manners, said Smith, a past Beaver Creek and Vail Valley Rodeo Queen. Poise and confidence count when it comes to being a good representative of your hometown and the western lifestyle.
"They learn public speaking skills and graciousness," she said. "They come out of their shells."
Kaycee Manupella, mother of the co-princess attendants, praised McNeel for her influence on the twins, after they met through 4-H. The twins tried out for royalty last year but didn't win.
"Annie encouraged them to try out again this year," added Manupella. "She's been a great role model for them."
Most rodeo royalty are in 4-H and have strong riding abilities, said Smith. But tryouts are not easy. Katy and Karly Manupella had to demonstrate horsemanship skills, give a speech and participate in an interview, among other tasks, during this year's contest.
Smith added that, these days, it's harder to find girls who are interested.
"That's why we did this," she said. "We want to promote interest."
The Garfield County Rodeo celebrates 75 years of rodeo royalty at its Diamond Jubilee next summer.