Garfield County Fair and Rodeo royalty saddle up for busy summer |

Garfield County Fair and Rodeo royalty saddle up for busy summer

Amy Hadden Marsh
Post Independent Contributor
Amy Haddne Marsh / Post Independent
Staff Photo |

The Garfield County Fair and Rodeo has lassoed a new rodeo royalty coordinator this year. Brandi Carlon has been on the job since February, helping Garfield County Fair and Rodeo queen, Annie McNeel, queen attendant Alli Sexton, and princesses Katy and Karly Manuppella fulfill their duties.

Carlon, 19, hails from Burns, Ore., where she was rodeo queen two years ago. She moved to Rifle with her two horses last August to pursue a vet tech degree at Colorado Mountain College. She says she enjoys her job. “The girls are great to work with,” she said. “They’re outgoing and have really great ideas.”

Friendship seems to be the best thing about being rodeo royalty. “I like hanging out with the girls,” said Katy Manuppella. “We’re all really good friends.”

Katy and her twin sister Karly, who attend Riverside Middle School, are first-year princesses. McNeel and Sexton are back in the saddle for a second year.

They held court at the Carbondale Wild West rodeo this week. It was hard to miss four sharply-dressed young women with bright smiles and sparkling crowns tucked into their crisp cowboy hats, plying popcorn for a buck to raise funds for their work.

Yes, being queen of the rodeo is work but it’s also lots of fun. McNeel said it’s great to meet new people and that she and her attendant and princesses are very close.

“They’re like my little big sisters,” she said with a grin. “I’m older than they are but they’re taller than me.”

McNeel just finished her first year at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, where she’s studying animal science and elementary education. She’s been involved in 4-H for half her life and raises prize-winning goats, swine and sheep.

Sexton enters Coal Ridge High School this fall. Barrel racing is her passion and she’s on her way to becoming a champion. Keeping a close eye on the barrel races in Carbondale on Thursday, she told the Post Independent that she qualified to compete in the National Little Britches rodeo this year. But, royalty duties come first.

“I can’t go because we have rodeos all that week,” she said.

Fair royalty reign for one year and are crowned at the end of the Garfield County Fair. The young women participate in activities such as Denver’s National Western Stock Show in the winter. But, when summer hits, the pace picks up. “This year we’ll be at Strawberry Days, the July 4 rodeo in Meeker, Parachute’s Grand Valley Days, and the Rim Rock Rodeo in Fruita,” said McNeel. They’ll return to Carbondale for the Tough Enough to Wear Pink rodeo on July 18.

The jewel in their crowns, however, is the Garfield County Fair. The girls are working hard on their riding pattern, which is what they’ll perform during the rodeo. “We lope the whole time and carry flags,” said Sexton. The trick is to maintain the pattern, handle the horse, keep the flag flying, and smile all the way through. Not an easy task. But this is royalty and they’re pros.

The Manuppella twins began riding horses almost before they could walk. They said you have to know how to ride if you want to become rodeo royalty.

Tweens and teens from ages 10 to 18 can apply by submitting an application to the Garfield County Fair Board by July 10.

And, there’s room at the rodeo for little cowgirls ages 4 to 8. “They can be princesses for a day,” explained McNeel. They can hang out with the queen and her court, learn what it takes to become royalty, and practice riding barrels on stick horses. Then, said McNeel, the toddlers lead the grand entry at a rodeo during the county fair. “They’ll ride a ‘hot lap’ on their stick horses around the arena,” she said. “Riding as fast as they can and waving.”

McNeel is at the end of her run as queen of the Garfield County Fair and Rodeo. She encourages others to try for the crown because making new friends and supporting Garfield County is fun. “And, come August,” she added, “It’s your fair and your time to shine.”

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