Riding around the arena displaying sponsor flags and presenting awards — what fans see of a rodeo queen’s job may look effortless. But, behind the scenes, rodeo queens put a lot of hard work, horsemanship and public relations into the role, explains Kay Marrs, who recently handed off the title Miss Rodeo South Dakota.
Reflecting on the year of service, Marrs says growing up on her family’s Whitewood ranch and experiences gained as a South Dakota 4-H member prepared her well.
“Growing up on our ranch instilled in me a good work ethic, a willingness to pitch in and not be afraid to get a little dirty now and then,” Marrs says. “A lot of people don’t think being a rodeo queen is hard work. But the good queens are those who show up and help the stock contractor and crew in any way they can.”
It was also on her family’s ranch that Marrs’ mom, Linda, taught her to ride.
“Horsemanship is key. Queens need to know how to get on and ride a variety of horses because, unlike what most people think, we don’t take our own horse to rodeos. When we get to a rodeo, we need to be able to ride any horse the stock contractors or rodeo committees have for us,” she says. “I’m grateful my mom started me at a young age and taught me how to ride and introduced me to people who could help.”
However, it wasn’t until she served as Jr. Miss Rodeo South Dakota in 2011, that she saw value in her mom insisting that in addition to the 4-H projects she enjoyed, like showing cattle and livestock judging, she also needed to compete in 4-H public presentations.
“I hated it at the time, but those public presentations made me comfortable speaking in public and talking to different people on a variety of subjects,” Marrs says.
She explains that as a rodeo queen, she was in the public’s eye, speaking often about the sport of rodeo and agriculture, the industry behind the sport.
“As a queen, you need to be able to articulate well and speak to a variety of people, from sponsors, rodeo committee members, stock contractors and announcers, to fans and media, doing radio or TV interviews,” she explains.
Marrs joined 4-H as an 8-year-old. Both of her parents had been 4-H members. In fact, she joined the same Lawrence County 4-H club her dad, Paul, belonged to as a youth, Range Riders 4-H Club. As a 4-H member, Marrs gained leadership skills serving as a club officer and learned the value of goal setting.
“When I started showing cattle, I wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t know how to show off an animal or fit it for show. So, I set a goal to change this. I found someone to help me fit my show cattle and asked them to teach me,” says Marrs. She eventually became the go-to family member her brothers and cousin relied to fit their cattle for shows.
“4-H taught me not to hesitate to ask for help. If you don’t ask for help, you don’t get anywhere,” she says.
After serving as Jr. Miss Rodeo South Dakota, Marrs set a goal to run for Miss Rodeo South Dakota after college. In 2016, she graduated from South Dakota State University with a degree in animal science and an agriculture business minor. Upon the completion of the 2018 Miss Rodeo South Dakota pageant, Marrs went home with the title of Lady in Waiting and on January 6, 2018, she began her reign.
From the start, Marrs says she was determined to be herself, understanding the important mentor role she accepted when she donned the crown.
“I remember watching the rodeo queens when I was little, so I always considered my role as a mentor, even in the tiny things I did,” she explains. “And, I was always myself. Even though I won Miss Rodeo South Dakota, I’m not going to change who I am, to be who someone wants me to be. I’m going to be myself, because when I am myself, that is when I can be a servant leader. Also, it’s exhausting trying to be someone else.”
Today, just a few weeks after handing off her title to the 2019 Miss Rodeo South Dakota, Marrs is eager to embrace her future career.
She plans to remain actively involved in agriculture, pursuing a career in communications or sales.
To learn more about South Dakota 4-H, go online to extension.sdstate.edu and click on the 4-H tab, or visit with your local SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Program Advisor.