Maria Orlova has been to quite a few fairs since being named Douglas County Rodeo Queen last year, but one left a particularly lasting impression on her.
“The Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center put on this special event at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs where they brought these kids to the hall of fame and held this special rodeo where the kids could compete in rodeo events,” Orlova said.
“It was just an amazing experience to be able to work with these kids and see the kind of smile that you could put on their faces and the kind of dedication they have," she continued. "It was a great experience for me personally.”
Orlova, 16, is a junior at Chaparral High School. She lives with her mother, Katya Taylor, in Parker.
“During the awards ceremony I was presented this buckle, and this little boy with autism was given one for championship thorough-racing, and I handed him his buckle and I congratulated him. He promptly asked for the microphone and started making his thank-you speech and was thanking his parents and his horseback-riding instructor. It was amazing to see the kind of confidence he had,” Orlova said. “I wish I had more of that. When I have to give speeches, I wish I could speak more from my heart like that and let my personality shine through.”
She was born in the Ukraine and lived there until she was 8 years old before moving to Colorado with her mother in 2005.
This year's competition will take place on Aug. 1, and Orlova will help crown a new queen the next day.
“In a couple weeks someone else will be taking over the crown and taking over the responsibility of promoting the fair and the royalty,” she said.
Rodeo contestants not only have to be able to win over a panel of judges, but they also have to know how to ride.
The contest is judged on a combination of horsemanship and personality demonstrated through different riding exhibitions and interviews.
It's a competition that Orlova said can be a tough mountain to climb.
“At the beginning it's very nerve-racking, but I guess what I told the girls this year who are trying out is, if you're nervous, well, I guess if you're not nervous you're not doing it right,” Orlova said. “When you're talking to the judges, at first, you can feel shy. Well, at least I did, but after talking to them for a while, I started to warm up and they are very nice. By the end, I felt very comfortable and I felt very good about doing my speech in front of them.”
Royalty program coordinator Roxanne Harris said she wants people to know that the rodeo royalty aren't your typical pageant girls.
“I think royalty sometimes gets a stigma that these girls are just beauty queens, and they are so much more than that,” Harris said. “They really put themselves out there. These girls study and work hard. They're very knowledgeable about agriculture and rodeo. They have to go out there and ride these horses. They're athletes. There's a lot that goes into this.”
This year's coronation ceremony will be Aug. 2 at 4 p.m., and will be followed by the Hometown Rodeo.
“The crowning is an amazing feeling,” Orlova said. “When they put that sash on you, they take all these pictures and there are photographers everywhere. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office presents us with our queen saddles. It's just a great feeling.”
For more information on the Douglas County Fair and Rodeo and schedules, visit douglascountyfairandrodeo.com.