Coffee isn’t working at this point. My phone says it’s 4:45, but after the¬†second cup kicks in, I remember that I’m in Eastern Oregon, in Pacific Time instead of my home zone an hour ahead. I’d complain, but I’m in a rodeo queen’s pickup, and we’re on the road already, pulling the trailer up next to a barn in the middle of nowhere and loading a horse. I’ll complain anyway. I’m sleepy.
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It’s still dark and cold by the time we’re loaded, and my coffee is half-consumed and half-spilled. The highway is just ahead, and there will be more coffee in Pendleton. Oh, and a parade. That’s why we’re up so early and biding our time with rodeo tales, bad jokes, and ideas for how to improve the world of rodeo queening. It’s going to be a good day.
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Pendleton is already thick with rodeo royalty on this barely-illuminated Friday. They’re running around everywhere in their curlers, sweats, and slides, getting everything ready for the morning. The parade doesn’t start for hours yet, but everyone is busy tacking up horses, sprucing up butt bouquets, putting finishing touches on their clothes, and spending lots of time visiting each other. Maybe it’s because we found coffee, but suddenly I realize it’s still not that light out – it’s just that there’s a lot of glitter floating in the air….
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Parades can be stressful on horses, so they tend to be babied a bit on these mornings. Soft words make a difference, as do lots of neck scratches, hugs, and grain for treats. The horses love their queens as much as the queens love their horses, and the prep lots are a horse lover’s dream. Paints, bays, appies, and greys are all around, and all in their very finest. I’m ready for more coffee, and Ruby is ready for more treats.
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It isn’t only the horses in their very best. Parades are the world’s chance to see the rodeo queens at a walking pace, and Pendleton is the all-time parade of parades. That means a blouse so nice it might only be worn once a year will be chosen today of all days, and it will be pressed to perfection. Buckle, crown, and sash are all set to go, and all the favorite jewelry is chosen with care. Absolutely nothing is left to chance for today. It’s the day to shine more so than almost any other on the calendar. Queens love their threads.¬†They can’t have coffee now, for fear of spilling, but I face no such anxiety. More for me.
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It’s finally time to head to the parade route. The entire morning has been spent in preparation, and at long last, the queens mount up, throw their freshly cleaned chaps over their legs, and travel down the classically western back streets of Pendleton to their waiting spots. The entire town is shut down in anticipation of the event. Stores all along the way have signs in their darkened windows. It’s not like you could make into town to shop for anything they had anyway. The streets are shut down. It’s parade day.
Jefferson Co. Rodeo Queen Emily Geist
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The world of a rodeo queen consists of more waiting than actually doing anything else, and it’s most pronounced on days like today. We’ve been at it since dark, and although it’s time to get in place, there’s still an hour to go until the parade starts. It’s a long time under the warm sun, covered in heavy fabrics, leather, and makeup, but it’s a chance to spend time with friends. Sash sisters make all the difference, and the hour of sitting in wait goes much quicker with them alongside you.
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At long last, the hour turns, and it’s finally parade time. Waiting has paid off, and with bright smiles, fluttering butterflies, and surging hearts, the queens finally take their place in line and the parade begins.

Miss Rodeo Oregon 2018, Jessi Cornforth
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The flag is followed by yips and yells that could only mean you’re at the Round-Up, and cries of “Let ‘Er Buck!” come randomly and enthusiastically from both sides of the road… and the middle of it! For all the wildness and craziness, though, the queens are still the epitome of wild west class.

Milton-Freewater Pioneer Posse Princess Meredith Moore
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They ride for six miles, accompanied by scores of other riders, but no motorized vehicles. Horses, carriages, and even longhorns and oxen keep them company, as do the thousands of fans lined up along the sidewalks. Six miles is a long time to go, but the bronc rider statue is still there at the end to greet them. As they come down the home stretch to the stadium, the smiles are still bright, and the joy still genuine.

Vale 4th of July Rodeo Queen Bo Bourasa
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E. Oregon Livestock Show Queen Darby Ingram
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And then, with no pomp whatsoever, the parade is done. The rodeo is yet to start, but it’s been a full day already. The morning is long, and the parade is long, but it’s worth every moment. Until next year, Pendleton. The parade has been fun, but they’re about to crack latch inside, and I’ve found a coffee vendor. Keep smiling, sash sisters!

Walla Walla Frontier Days Queen Natalie Parsons
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