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Rodeo queen wows with her stories

Rachel O'Connor has spent the greater part of a year traveling around Florida promoting rodeos.

Also known as Miss Rodeo Florida, the 21-year-old from Zephyrhills recently visited Pleasant Grove Elementary first-graders and told them all about bucking broncos and calf roping.

The first-graders had a lot to tell her, too.

O'Connor sat in front of the children gathered on the floor and showed them photographs of the kinds of events that can be seen at a rodeo. She was in town for the rodeo held recently at the Citrus County Fairgrounds.

Having a rodeo queen before them with photographs of riding and roping set off a string of questions.

"Why do they have to rope the cows?"

"It's just another event," O'Connor said.

She explained that roping came from trying to catch cows on ranches for branding or to give them medication.

Another photo was of one rodeo event that allowed only female participants, riding a horse through a barrel course.

The questions continued.

"Can boys do it?"

"No."

"What if (the barrels) were glued together?"

"I don't think they could get around them," O'Connor said.

Other events were calf roping and team roping. O'Connor explained that these were events for cowboys.

So, the next question from a first-grader: "Can girls do it?"

"No."

O'Connor explained that in team roping, two riders work together. One ropes the head of the steer and the other the back feet. This is used on farms, she said, to catch the animals.

O'Connor said she has been involved with rodeos for 10 years. She was wearing a cowboy hat, jeans with a rhinestone belt and a Miss Rodeo Florida belt buckle. One student felt compelled to announce that her father has a cowboy hat.

"Do you ever wear it?" O'Connor asked.

"It's too big for me," the girl replied.

The students asked O'Connor questions about herself.

"Have you ever rode a horse?"

"Yeah, many times."

"How did you become rodeo queen?"

"You have to ride a horse and know a lot about rodeos," she said.

O'Connor will be participating in the National Rodeo America Pageant for the Miss Rodeo America title, which occurs during the National Finals Rodeo. The event runs through Saturday in Las Vegas.

During her visit to Pleasant Grove Elementary, O'Connor was accompanied by Lori McKettrick, who is a director with the Citrus County 4-H and director of the Miss Rodeo Florida Association.

She explained O'Connor's duties.

"She is the official ambassador and spokesperson for professional rodeo," McKettrick said. "I think there are about 24 professional rodeos in Florida."

McKettrick said there is a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and the rodeo performers are professional cowboys who compete at events across the state and the country.

The highest-performing winners can perform or compete at the National Finals Rodeo.

Along with photos of calf and steer roping, barrel courses, bucking broncos and steer wrestling, O'Connor had a photo of bull riding.

"The cowboys have to ride these bucking bulls for eight seconds," she said.

A boy quickly figured out a possible, unfortunate consequence of such risky behavior:

"Whoever gets his face on the horns loses," he said.

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