Bret Harte soph wins state pageant

McKensey Middleton of Hathaway Pines was crowned Miss California State Horsemen’s Association of 2014 earlier this month – and it wasn’t her first time at the rodeo.

McKensey, who turned 16 Oct. 24, first entered the riding loop in a regional competition for Little Miss CSHA. That was nearly a decade ago.

Now, she said she is thrilled to be the face of the California State Horsemen’s Association.

“My favorite part is talking to people about the organization and seeing them get excited about it because it gets me excited,” she said.

As Miss CSHA, McKensey will represent the nonprofit organization at meetings, conventions, race days and parades. She will be formally inaugurated in Sacramento in November. Upon graduating from high school, McKensey will receive a college scholarship.

“They not only worked to qualify but also worked to raise money to attend the competition,” said McKensey’s mother, Tammy Middleton.

The girls sold tickets for a drawing and raised about $1,800 to attend the competition. Gift certificates for the drawing were donated by Camps Restaurant in Greenhorn Creek, the V restaurant in Murphys and Murphys Hotel.

“Everywhere we stopped, they (McKensey and her sister Morgan) sold tickets,” Middle-ton said. “In the evenings we went out and they sold them house to house. They worked very hard to get there to compete!”

And the competition itself was no cakewalk. The competition aims to develop life skills and prepare young girls for a future in rodeo pageants. It is open to ages 14 to 17 and has four components: written, interview, riding pattern and speech.

For the written test, McKensey studied the horsemen’s handbook more than many students study for school.

“I made about 600 flashcards,” she said.

Her hard work paid off. Out of a total of 200 questions, she got 180 correct.

McKensey said she enjoys parading because she is able to spend time with her horse, Sugar, 5. McKensey’s family bred and raised Sugar.

“We got her broken last year,” McKensey said. “She’s new to the riding scene, a very green horse.”

McKensey partnered with Sugar during the Calaveras County Saddle Queen competition in May. She was awarded first runner up and Miss Photogenic.

“She stuck with her own horse,” said McKensey’s mother. “She’s learning as her horse is learning.”

McKensey followed the footsteps of her older sister Meagon, who competed in the Miss CSHA pageant when she was younger.

“My oldest daughter wanted to ride,” Middleton said. “That was the beginning of all of it, and it just trickled down to my younger ones.”

McKensey’s younger sister, Morgan, also joined the competition this month. She took home first place in the speech portion for Little Miss CSHA.

Like her younger sister, McKensey said the speech aspect was her favorite of the competition.

“I had a lot of fun preparing it, and I felt like I could get creative with the prompts they gave me,” she said.

With a prompt of “horses of the silver screen,” McKensey pretended to give an Academy Award for best equine performance in a movie.

“I presented the fake Oscar to Trigger,” she said, referencing Roy Rogers’ famed steed of the mid-1900s. “He was credited with being the smartest horse in the movies. He appeared in 101 TV shows and 80 movies. He could walk 50 feet on his hind legs.”

As for McKensey’s horse, Sugar, Middleton said she still has a long way to go. The effort has been supported by Murphys resident Kiersten Lowry, a family friend who practiced with McKensey and Sugar.

“She took McKensey under her wing,” Middleton said. “I don’t think we could have done it without her. … She has helped McKensey know how to work with her horse.”

Middleton is proud of her three daughters for competing in rodeo pageants.

“I think they’re very dedicated,” she said. “You have to be a very hardworking young lady to go into these competitions. It takes a lot of devotion; you have to want it.”

Contact Alicia Castro at