Teen is USA rodeo-bound Rodeo benefit

Published: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 10:58 p.m.
Lake Butler's Haleigh Bates, Miss Florida Rodeo USA 2004, will travel to Oklahoma City this weekend to compete for the title of Miss Rodeo USA, an International Professional Rodeo Association-sponsored event.
"She's overwhelmed. It's a lot to learn in a very short space of time," shares Rita Bates, Haleigh's mother. Looking at this poised, accomplished girl, it's hard to believe that she might be the least bit overcome by the demands of competition.
Yet, if the Bates family is overwhelmed, it's understandable. Because Haleigh unexpectedly inherited her reign when Miss Florida Rodeo was unable to continue, there has been a learning curve and time crunch to contend with.
"While the other girls have had almost a year to prepare, we've only had since October. So we are really being pushed to get fund raising. It's been a journey," Rita explains.
Haleigh's goal is "ultimately to be a model," said Rita. Haleigh adds, "I've always wanted to be a model since I was little. I've watched it on TV and it looked like an easy way to make money. Then again, this rodeo queen contestant stuff is actually more than what I thought. But I haven't actually been to model schooling, so I don't know."
Haleigh's mother pulls out the study book Haleigh must master for the competition. It is intense and plays out over an entire week, from Sunday to Sunday, Jan. 16.
Haleigh will be judged on personal interviews, impromptu speeches, prepared speeches, modeling, media, two written exams, her horsemanship, current events and various entertainment events. Competition is stiff and according to Sandy Merritt, the Florida contest coordinator, a Florida contestant hasn't won since 1974.
Coming up with the 15 different and required outfits has been just one of the many challenges involving time, money and creativity.
There is even a science to choosing the color of the outfits. Light colors magnify a rider's movements, dark colors don't, and choosing wisely can make a difference when you're in the ring with all the judges' eyes trained on you.
"I've been through junior rodeo, now I'm going through high school rodeo, and it's really fun. I'd really like to go on to college rodeo," said Haleigh. Haleigh's mother explains that in many instances, "A lot of it is your horse. Sometimes you're as good as your horse."
Haleigh adds that her horse is that good, and "we're workin' on the rider right now! The rider has to catch up with the horse." Haleigh has two horses to keep up with - Stormy, aka Eeyore, and Angel, a medicine-head paint.
Before heading out to Oklahoma, a final fund-raiser will be held at 5 p.m. Friday at the Live Oak Arena in Suwannee County. Those interested in participating, attending or making a donation, can call Merritt at (386) 590-0662, or e-mail her at missflrodeousa@aol.com.

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