WASILLA — The girls who grow into women with Rodeo Alaska were born to do this. Horseback riding, in and out of the rodeo arena is in their blood.

“You’re born with the gene. You’re kinda all in or not,” 2019-20 Miss Rodeo Alaska Teen Sierra Cook said.

Many men, women, boys and girls participated in the city of Wasilla’s Summerfest rodeo with Rodeo Alaska. Johnna Drew, 2019/20 Miss Rodeo Alaska, noted that more girls are entering the sport.

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“There actually has been a lot of new girls coming in,” Drew said.

Some of this year’s girls and women crowned in the Miss Rodeo Alaska Court shared why riding is so important to them.

Drew said that when she’s on the saddle, nothing else matters. She said it’s a great way to relieve stress.

“I think horses are very therapeutic,” Drew said.

Drew is 19 years old. She said that she started riding around 8 years old. She said that once she entered the rodeo world, she was immediately treated like family.

“It’s a great community to have… I meet some of the greatest people ever,” Drew said.

While a fair number of people grow up around the rodeo and equestrian lifestyle, some venture into it on their own accord.

Cook said that her parents aren’t into the rodeo or horses at all. When she was a young girl first showing an interest, her parents thought she was just a young girl going through a “pony phase” and would eventually grow out of it. Now she’s 16 years old and has no plans of quitting anytime soon.

“It turned out not be a pony phase,” Cook said with a laugh. “Which is okay with me.”

Cook said that it takes a lot of hard work. She’s been the one taking care of her horse, building that bond and making this dream a reality. She came to Wasilla from Anchorage on her own. She found her familiar home away from home during one of the first rodeo weekends to kick of yet another season with Rodeo Alaska.

Cook said that she and her sister are the “frontiersman” of her family when it comes to horse-riding, trailblazing into this unique and tight knit community.

“Girls like us do it because we love it and we sacrifice all of our money and our time for these animals in this sport,” Cook said.

Cook is riding on the fact that all her efforts, experiences, friendships, trials triumphs will assure her this was the right path to gallop down.

“I know it will benefit my life later on,” Cook said.

Kirsten Coyne is the 2019-20 Miss Rodeo Alaska Princess. Coyne and her fellow rodeo royalty greeted attendees over the weekend.

“It’s a lot to balance rodeo and this but it’s worth it,” Coyne said.

Like Miss Alaska or Miss Alaska State Fair, they act as ambassadors for their sport and community.

“On top of not only being Miss Rodeo Alaska, I’m fortunate enough to compete during our rodeos. So, it really gives me a chance to only represent our community but to build it as well,” Drew said.

Coyne is 15 and part of the Junior Rodeo. She said that the rodeo community is very close and supportive, helping watch each other’s horses and with whatever else is going on in their lives.

“Rodeo, it’s one big family. We all take care of each other. When rodeo weekends happen, we all come together and it’s awesome,” Coyne said.

Coyne said that the key to keeping focus in the rodeo arena comes from the loyal bond between the horse and its rider.

“You gotta’ trust your horse 100 percent,” Coyne said.

Coyne said that her horse is her best friend. That’s how all the riders feel, according to Drew. She said it’s a special kind of bond that’s almost unexplainable but altogether undeniable.

“Horses are some of the most loyal animals you will ever meet,” Drew said.

Denali Boe is the 2019-20 Miss Rodeo Alaska Sweetheart. Boe is 11 years old and this is her second time holding the title. Barrel racing his her favorite event. She said that she’s learned a lot from her elders, from the teens to adults. She shared one of the most important lessons she’s learned in rodeo, keep that smile no matter what happens.

“You always have to smile ‘til your face hurts… Just smile,” Boe said.

Contact Mat-Su Valley reporter Jacob Mann at: jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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