If you had told Merced resident Ondrea Edwards that she would one day be standing on a stage representing her community in the Miss Rodeo California competition, she would have never believed you.
“I was always a tomboy until I was 18,” Edwards said. The 23-year-old holds three titles in the rodeo queen arena: Miss Grand National, Miss Merced Rodeo, and her current title of Miss Wine Country Rodeo 2013.
But the rodeo queen competitions aren’t your average beauty pageants, and Edwards isn’t just another pretty face.
To win the event, Edwards must demonstrate her ability to ride a horse, answer tough questions and display confidence.
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“It’s definitely not a beauty pageant and you don’t have to be the tallest model-esque person in the room,” Edwards said.
Born in Germany, Edwards got her first horse at age 14 and moved to Merced when she was 15. She comes from a military family, but taught herself what it takes to be a rodeo queen.
“I really like to show people that I come from a non-ranching family, but I have tons of support from my community,” Edwards said. “You can make yourself anything you want to be.”
Edwards will compete in the Miss Rodeo California event in Paso Robles Oct. 8-10. She will be judged on completing patterns with a horse she’s never ridden before, such as such as stopping and pivoting the horse 360 degrees.. Edwards will also present a two-minute speech and answer multiple questions about current events and equine topics.
Six outfit changes, four of which include leather, remind audiences that this isn’t just another beauty pageant.
The road to the Miss Rodeo California competition wasn’t an easy one for Edwards, who estimated spending $7,500 on the attire and other items.
She couldn’t have gotten there without her 73-year-old “papa,” her nickname for her grandfather, who gave her the money, she said.
“I just didn’t want her to worry about it,” said Paul Elam, Edwards’ grandfather. He had saved the money for a trip to Europe. “I didn’t want her to have the pressure of worrying about money. She’s my granddaughter and she’s always been so polite and has touched a lot of lives.”
Elam said Edwards, who is one of 20 grandchildren, has overcome many obstacles in her life, including losing her hearing in one ear.
“She’s a determined young lady,” he said. “I’m proud of everything she’s done and she’s not afraid to get out and work.”
To prepare for the competition, Edwards called on Miss Rodeo California 2011, rodeo queen coach Brittany Slaton, about two months before the event. The pair got to work by doing mock interviews and preparing Edwards’ speech.
“She’s incredibly hard-working and very driven,” said Slaton, 24. “There’s so much that goes into a pageant, so it just means that you have less time to get everything accomplished.”
Slaton said winning the competition in 2011 opened many doors for her and helped her land a dream job.
“It helped me get my job for Taylor Farms,” she said. “I met the owner of Taylor Farms through a rodeo queen charity event, so when my résumé came across his desk, he already knew me.”
Edwards said she believes the competition helps with her goals, which include completing her associate degree from Merced College and transferring to a four-year university.
Her coach and grandfather believe she has what it takes to accomplish anything she sets her mind to, especially representing California as a rodeo queen.
“She’s always been dedicated to her animals,” Elam said. “She just has a personality that is radiant, and that’s how she’s been all her life.”
If Edwards wins the state title in October, she will move on to the national Miss Rodeo America competition in Las Vegas, where she could win $20,000 for school.
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209)385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.