Lakeside native Rachel Owens-Sarno takes Miss Rodeo California 2016 title

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At the age of 13, something happened to Rachel Owens-Sarno that would change the course of her life, and it happened at the 2005 Lakeside Rodeo.

She fell in love with rodeo.

At the age of 13, something happened to Rachel Owens-Sarno that would change the course of her life, and it happened at the 2005 Lakeside Rodeo.

She fell in love with rodeo.

It was watching Miss Rodeo Lakeside 2005 Markie Battaglia doing her queen’s run around the arena, and she said to herself, “I can do that.” By the time she was 15, she decided to compete after seeing a flyer for the Miss Ramona Rodeo junior age category. She said the look on her mother’s face was priceless when she told her the news because she never wore makeup, hated dresses and had never done any public speaking. But she was determined to try.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she said. “I was 13 and thought I was talented enough. Then, I didn’t win the first couple of times, but I started understanding more of what I had to be to be a rodeo queen. Then I was successful in 2009. I became Miss Ramona Rodeo. That was my first title.”

Now seven years and five crowns later, Owens-Sarno took the reins as Miss Rodeo California 2016 on January 1.

“Now it’s on a statewide scale, travelling up and down representing rodeo,” she said. “So I will be traveling a lot and representing California at the Miss Rodeo America next year.”

Owens-Sarno will be travelling up and down the state, with Denver, Florida and Cheyenne already on her schedule. She said in the in between moments she plans on working with coaches, and taking more riding lessons, but she said that Miss Rodeo America 2015 Lauren Heaton put it all into perspective perfectly.

“She said, ‘Just work your title. Use your title to get ready for Miss Rodeo America.’ That’s exactly what she did and that’s what I plan on doing,” she said. “Working my title and using as much of my resources from Miss Rodeo California to make me the best representative for California at America. Because if I’m going to be running, I would like to win. That’s the goal.”

The Miss Rodeo California pageant was a four day event, without phones, without parents. There are three different interviews. They rode draw horses (horses they never ridden before), and were given five minutes to warm up. The first horse performed a pattern and the second horse, this year they chose rail work. Then a fashion show, speeches, impromptu questions, and a speech, written and delivered within 10 minutes. Owens-Sarno said it was “intense” at times, but that seeing old friends and making new friends (and a couple of phone calls to parents) made the event as much fun as competitive.

Now 23, Owens-Sarno has practically grown up in the rodeo, and the life of a rodeo queen, which she said has helped form her into the woman she is today.

“This has helped me immensely,” she said. “You just learn so much growing up in rodeo. You have to deal with adult issues. My first title I was 17, one of the youngest queens around. I had to be more mature and act a different way than most 17 year old girls. And being a role model and being in the public eye it really makes you watch what you are posting on social media and how you act every day.”

Over the years, she realized that being a mentor and role model is one of the most important jobs with her title. This year, she created a platform using RODEA as an acronym. Respect Ourselves, Drive to Empower Others. 

She said there is a great responsibility that comes when people know who you are and that it has helped her be a little wiser with her choices. But it’s the kids in the arena are what gives her joy and reminds her of how she was once inspired by a rodeo queen.

“In the arena, the kids are really cool. The fact that I could potentially be inspiring the other girls is so exciting to me. Especially at a young age,” she said. “If they grow up loving rodeo, even if it’s just the rodeo queen introducing the love of rodeo it’s going to help preserve our sport. And that’s so important.”

One thing Owens-Sarno loves to share with the younger crowd is her experience with the Straight Edge movement. She made the Straight Edge pledge.

“When I was 17 and listening to more pop punk music I learned about Straight Edge,” she said. “I had a few friends in it and it was exactly who I am. It’s always been a part of me and what I learned about Straight Edge is it is the pledge of no drinking, no smoking and no drugs for your whole life. It is something that I personally like and I understand that it is definitely not for everybody, because it’s not an easy thing.”

She said for her, it is second nature.

“I’ve never been interested,” she said. “I like to talk to kids about it. There is a different path. You do not have to go party and do all those things. And I know a lot of kids feel pressured to, and it’s like, there’s no point. I had to go through the same pressure. I was an awkward, young girl going out hanging with my friends and it just never interested me at all.”

There is no official coronation for Miss Rodeo California as the pageant was held in October, so the title is passed quietly at the first of the year. Owens-Sarno said she would have not made it if not for the support of the El Capitan Stadium Association, members of the Optimist, and many generous people and sponsors. All of Owens-Sarno’s travels and upcoming competitions are done through sponsors and fundraisers. There is a fundraiser tentatively planned in February, but no date is set. For fundraising and sponsorship information contact Emily Junk at emily.gay@sbcglobal.net.

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