By Wrangler Network contributor Miss Rodeo America
9,000 miles; 8 weeks. From a photo shoot in Las Vegas, to ‘The Daddy of ‘em All’ in Cheyenne, to my small hometown county rodeo in Kendallville, Indiana. I spent many nights trading sleep for driving and I would not have it any other way. This was my summer and the beginning of my year as Miss Rodeo Indiana.
The greatest joy of this crown is the traveling I’m able to do, and the people I’m able to meet along the trail. Coming from the second largest city and the second most diverse high school in Indiana, I’ve been exposed to a variety of lifestyles and cultures but I can promise that rodeo is my favorite of all of them.
My parents left their small, homogeneous towns and family farms for the big city where my four siblings and I would later grow up. The famous saying, “There’s more than corn in Indiana!” rings very true with this Hoosier cowgirl who grew up on the “rough side of town” in a wonderfully diverse city. My name is Maribeth Harrell, Miss Rodeo Indiana 2016, and I’m different.
I can honestly say that I never met anyone like myself until I graduated high school. Before that, I was the “white girl” who did a country line-dance with her dad in matching outfits for her kindergarten class. I was the girl who received cowboy hats and long dusters for her birthday that wouldn’t dare be worn to school. I was also the girl who spent hours with her ear next to the radio memorizing every country song it played.
Being different was something that I was very aware of and oddly comfortable with. Although I had no trouble making friends, I experienced bullying for countless reasons. I was different and my lifestyle did not match my location. I was in the minority race. I was a year younger than all of my classmates due to skipping a grade in elementary school. I had a “different” hobby. Even my vehicle was “different” as I was the only student, let alone girl, who drove a truck to school. By the time I graduated, every one of my friends knew my horse, Yaros, as I tried to convince them all that being involved with horses does not require living in the country.
This spurred my decision to move to South Dakota. I didn’t know a single person in the state, nor had I ever been there. But I packed my trailer and moved to the town of Bruce (population 202). I joined the rodeo team and became involved in rodeo more than ever, which ultimately led me to winning the first rodeo queen title I ever ran for. I graduated from South Dakota State University in 2014 with a Bachelor’s degree in English Education and English-as-a-Second-Language endorsement. For the past two years, I’ve been a high school teacher for students learning the English language for the first time. This career has given me the greatest opportunity to show my students how incredible being “different” actually is.
Despite the remarkable horse community throughout Indiana, rodeo queens are nearly non-existent. This is something I hope to change as I eagerly pilot this fantastic program that has not existed since 1999. Because of this title, I’ve had the opportunity to judge our Indiana High School Rodeo Association queen contest, speak to a group of elementary school girls about being confident and holding high self-esteem, and even learning to goat-tie for the first time from Indiana’s own 2015 NJHFR Rookie All-Around Cowgirl, Greeley Eastep.
Present day, I am the girl who still wears t-shirts from middle school; the girl who drives everywhere in a Prius with two miniature Dachshunds in the backseat; the girl who can spout the lyrics to any rap song on the radio, and every album that Garth Brooks ever produced. I’m the girl who lives to prove that every horse has a purpose. I’m the girl who lives fearlessly, laughs endlessly, and travels extensively, but always seems to find herself back in the “Crossroads of America”. Indiana: where the corn grows tall, the cars run fast, the basketballs are shot high, and the highways never end.