Miss Rodeo America Taylor McNair has been having a bit of a bumpy start to her stay in Cody, but in true queen-like fashion she hasn’t let that get her down.
“I feel like you step into a time capsule when you come to Cody, Wyoming,” she said. “It’s like taking it back to where the West was won.”
When McNair, 23, stepped off the Yellowstone Regional Airport tarmac, her luggage did not follow suit, lost somewhere in transit during her flight from Denver to Cody. After a full day in town, it still hadn’t arrived.
“I’ve been sharing clothes with Miss Rodeo Florida (Cara Spirazza), so we truly are sisters with the other girls,” she said with a laugh.
McNair has been holding court at the Stampede Rodeo this entire week. For her, it’s just one of the many stops she will make across the country this summer as an official representative of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Gazing out onto the Stampede Rodeo Grounds and beyond to nearby Cedar Mountain, McNair takes time to smell the sage, even if her time is fleeting. She made her first trip to Cody last summer as Miss Rodeo Mississippi but is now returning with an even grander sash and cowgirl hat.
“I heard such good things about this rodeo from those before me,” she said. “It (Cody) definitely didn’t disappoint. It’s beautiful here, I mean look at this scenery.”
Last December, McNair was crowned in Las Vegas during the Miss Rodeo America Pageant, held in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo. She said winning came as a complete surprise, as she was convinced before winning the judges hated her.
“They really just seem to … cling to other girls,” she said. “I guess that was just their way of not showing favoritism. They wouldn’t talk to me, they wouldn’t look at me.”
But it’s clear the judges knew their winner. McNair also earned appearance, personality and written test awards, won the Chap Award and Sherry Smith Memorial Scholarship, for which she will likely use towards a law degree with a Masters in Agricultural and Food Law.
The Miss Rodeo Pageant is an all-encompassing congeniality contest that judges women with a written test on equine science and rodeo knowledge, public speaking, appearance, a horsemanship competition, extensive interviews and a fashion show.
The horsemanship aspect involved riding more than 100 horses, a test for her current duties where she rides a different horse at every rodeo she attends. This week she has found herself on a black and white speckled horse named Howdy.
“Like people, they have their buttons, they have good days and bad days,” McNair said. “It’s hard to readjust and learn what to do for each horse.”
A long time coming
McNair grew up riding horses on her farm in Learned, Miss., and entered her first rodeo at 4 years old. It was the death to her favorite horse Duncan that made her distance herself from the sport for a number of years.
But by the time she was 13 she was already back in the saddle, after being inspired upon seeing a lone horse ranging in a pasture.
“I said, ‘I’m going to be a cowgirl,’” she recalled.
While at Mississippi State University she competed on both the equestrian and rodeo teams, specializing in goat tying. She said working with horses has helped in many different walks of life.
“I think rodeo teaches you so much more than you see on the outside,” she said. “It really prepares you for your career. You’re interacting with people, you’re networking. You know in rodeo, you’re taking care of horses, putting animals before yourself.”
Now, she’s taken on a new pursuit, but never once has she let go of her original reins.
“Miss Rodeo is first and foremost a cowgirl,” she said.
Life as ‘The First Lady
McNair will travel around 100,000 miles and will make around 100 rodeo appearances this year, according to the Miss Rodeo America website.
She and other Miss Rodeos ride out with the American flag during an opening “queen’s run” and push out stock.
“In the steer wrestling, we push out the steers after the cowboys have defeated (them),” McNair said. “We also go back in there for the tie down roping, we’ll push out the calves.”
Currently, barrel riding is the only women’s event in the PRCA. McNair prides herself on being a role model for young girls with an interest in rodeo, doing her part to ignite greater participation in the sport.
“It’s so cool to see girls that are fascinated by horses and rodeo,” she said. “Maybe trade in that ballerina tutu … or whatever it may be for a horse.”
After the rodeo completed Monday, McNair and the other Miss Rodeos signed autographs for man, woman and baby.
“When I was younger I always looked up to the rodeo queens,” she said. “I watched every move they made. And now thinking about that, I have to realize that, hey I could be that girl (that) is now their role model. What an honor and a responsibility that is.”
McNair will return home in August, but won’t complete her summer tour until the end of September. In December she will step back out and make a last hurrah at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, where her voyage started seven months ago. It may be her last dance as Miss Rodeo America but it will be an experience that leaves her with memories that last a lifetime.
McNair was at the Greeley Stampede in Colorado most recently before venturing up to Cody. Riding through a pack of steers with American flag held high, she said a surreal feeling came over her.
“I’ve never felt such a sense of patriotism,” she said. “This is truly what America is all about.”