The 2022 Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo queen and attendant began their year-long reign on Jan. 1. The Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo royalty program began in 1965, making Queen Josie Thomas and Attendant Hannah Thomas the newest members of a 57-year legacy.
The Thomas sisters won their titles last September and have spent the past four months preparing for their reign by attending local events and sharing their knowledge and love of rodeo culture.
Josie and Hannah Thomas, along with Jill Stuebner, chair for the Elizabeth Stampede Royalty Committee, sat down with the Elbert County News on Jan. 3 at El Abuelo Family Restaurant in downtown Elizabeth for an extensive interview.
During the hour-long conversation, the Thomas sisters talked about balancing school and extracurriculars, their ever-growing horse knowledge, and their overall excitement for the coming year.
Josie (18, senior) and Hannah (15, sophomore) are both students at Ponderosa High School north of their Franktown home and have been involved with horse and rodeo culture from a very young age. Their love for rodeo royalty and interest in competing, however, developed only a few years ago.
“When I was younger, we went to the National Western Stock Show a lot. The royalty girls are usually spread around the events and there were girls at the front signing cards. The queens and attendants write cute little notes on them for the kids and my first was from Miss Rodeo Colorado,” said Queen Josie with a huge smile. “Much later in my life, in 2019, I went to the Elbert County Fair royalty clinic to see what the whole rodeo royalty thing was all about. It was so much fun! I didn’t ever expect to win.”
Attendant Hanna jumped in as she sipped her iced tea, “I didn’t think about it until Josie got interested. I’ve always been around horses and rodeo my whole life but didn’t get into it until Josie did,” said Hannah. “I was fortunate because I already had someone in my house who had done it and could teach me how to do everything.”
When asked about how it felt to be Elizabeth Stampede royalty, the sisters were excited to share their thoughts.
“Being queen feels unreal! I get to represent the rodeo I grew up in,” exclaimed Josie. “We’re lucky that we have a legacy of really phenomenal girls and coordinators, and I want to maintain that.”
“It feels so surreal,” said Hannah. “We have had so many people who have grown up with us reaching out to us and it feels really great.”
The sisters were quick to comment, however, that though they are excited for their reign, rodeo royalty is much more about the community than themselves. “When you’re in royalty, it’s not really about you, it’s about the rodeo, about the community,” said Josie. “We’re representing a well-established rodeo with a long history.”
Hannah and Josie have made history by being the first sister pair in the 57 years since the program’s inception. They were extremely surprised by winning together but feel that it has already helped create a stronger bond between them.
“We told ourselves that we needed to be prepared for one of us to win and not the other,” said Hannah. “The judges asked us how we would feel about that. They asked about our relationship with each other.”
“After the competition was over, we were sitting in the car with our hair and makeup still done, saying to each other: ‘Did we both just win?’” said Josie. “I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it was.”
Stuebner, the royalty committee chair, said that having both queen and attendant be from the same family made coordination much easier for her. “It’s so much easier for me coordinating with just one family,” said Stuebner. “I only have to make one phone call or send one text.”
Stuebner later shared her general excitement for the Thomas sisters. “I am so excited! These two girls are such mature young people. They represent the stampede so amazingly,” said Jill. “It’s going to be so much fun and we’re going to do so many things. I am looking forward to this year.”
Preparing for National Western
The Thomas sisters were excited for their first major event of their 2022 reign — the National Western Stock Show in Denver, one of the biggest rodeo, stock, and Western culture events in the world, running Jan. 8-23.
“The big stock show is like an unofficial boot camp for new royalty,” said Josie. “When I went in 2019 as Elbert County Fair princess, I was new to the whole process. Because you have so many events to be at and you have to get up so early, you eventually learn the fastest way to curl your hair, you have to make sure you have your dress pressed, and that you are prepared with all different shades of lipstick.”
The Thomas sisters have a packed schedule for the bulk of January, spending their weekends at the stock show in full Western regalia and representing the Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo.
“For the stock show, we do a lot of meet and greets at the front door, stick horse rodeo for the kids, lots of kid interactions,” said Hannah. “Sometimes people come to you with questions. It’s very fun being able to represent the Western way of life and rodeo when people ask.”
“It’s a pageant but with horses. You get a really unique and cool experience, promoting Western culture,” said Hannah. “We’re really important for making that connection with the public and the stock show is a great place to do that.”
For the Thomas sisters, it is a particularly exciting National Western Stock Show because Ashley Baller of Parker, 2015 Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo attendant, is now the 2022 Miss Rodeo Colorado. The Thomas sisters were both involved in youth horse judging as children, as was Baller.
“We’ve known her for a while. She is a really cool person,” said Hannah. “It is really exciting to see former Elizbeth Stampede royalty become Miss Rodeo Colorado.”
To win the titles of rodeo queen or attendant, a contestant must be extremely well-rounded and knowledgeable regarding rodeo and horse culture. Both Thomas sisters take Advanced Placement classes at Ponderosa High School and earn exemplary grades. “I even got a 4.0 last semester!” said Josie, who serves as an officer for her school’s National Honor Society.
Both sisters have also been involved with Elbert County 4-H since they were small, be it through showing dogs and cats, shooting, or through numerous equine-related activities. For shooting, Hannah competes in archery and .22 rifle while Josie competes in .22 rifle, high-powered rifle, .22 pistol, and many, many more. Hannah also serves as the 4-H Youth Council president for Elbert County.
The Thomas sisters are also extremely knowledgeable of horses through their experience with 4-H. However, Hannah shared that many people think rodeo royalty are simply pretty girls in Western wear that don’t have any clue about the culture they represent. “Some people have the wrong depiction of us,” said Hannah. “I’ve actually had people come up to me and test me on my horse and rodeo knowledge.”
As a part of their 4-H activities, both sisters have been involved in horse judging competition, Horse Bowl, and hippology (the study of horses). Josie competed with the 2019 Horse Bowl team at the National Finals in Columbus, Ohio at the All American Quarter Horse Congress. In addition, both have given presentations for the 4-H Veterinary Sciences program, Josie on horse versus human surgery and Hannah on the evolution of the horse.
The Thomas sisters are also musically inclined. Both play piano, guitar and violin, as well as sing in the choir. In addition, Josie plays banjo and Hannah soon hopes to add the dulcimer to her musical repertoire.
Goals for 2022
Josie and Hannah are looking forward to an exciting year representing the Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo and have several goals for their reign.
“A big goal of mine is to further my rodeo knowledge as much as I can so I can answer all the questions,” said Hannah. “I also really want to further my networking connections and represent the Elizabeth Stampede the best I can.”
Josie followed up, in many ways mirroring her sister’s goals. “I want kind of the same thing. I want to meet as many people from as many walks of life as I can. That is my biggest goal,” said Josie. “Living in the same place and the same community for your whole life, meeting people from different walks of life is so important.”
Bouncing off Josie’s comment about wanting to meet new people from new walks of life, the sisters were posed with a question on everyone’s mind in Elizabeth and its surrounding areas: How do you feel about the area changing so much? And for the sisters, how will they deal with that change as royalty for the Elizabeth Stampede?
“We always used to say we lived in a small town, but it’s changed so much since we were little kids,” commented Josie. “With all the people moving here, I sometimes wonder what will happen to rodeo culture.”
Both Hannah and Josie are confident that with the growing population of Elbert County, there will be an even greater opportunity to educate people and to get them involved in Western culture.
“We have built such a strong community around rodeo, and the community is growing. If there is an impact, I think it’ll be a positive one,” said Hannah. “Hopefully we’ll be able to educate the people moving out here.”
Hannah continued to explain that they have been given an interesting “puzzle” to work with and because of their location in Franktown, they have a diverse perspective. “We do rodeo and 4-H events with people in Elbert County, but we now live with ‘city folk’, giving us an awesome blended perspective on life.”
“We certainly know how to interact with many types of people because of where we grew up,” said Josie. “We’re also well equipped to answer controversial questions.”
Because many newcomers to Elbert County are unfamiliar with rodeo culture, they come equipped with many questions.
“We get a lot of animal safety questions. People are often concerned about the treatment of the animals, like ‘What do they put on the bull to make them buck?’ and ‘Do the spurs hurt the horses?’” said Josie. “What people don’t know is that the rodeo animals are born and bred to buck. We have to help educate people about the sport and our Western way of life.”
Wrapping up the interview at El Abuelo, Josie and Hannah Thomas shared their post-reign plans with the Elbert County News.
“I thought about continuing with royalty, but for now I’m going to focus on school,” said Hannah. “In the fall I’m attending Metropolitan State University in Denver and then hope to transfer to West Texas A&M to pursue a degree in animal sciences.”
Hannah also has future dreams to work with animals, but her royalty goals are still very much alive. “I love to meet the public and kids. I love to inspire them. I definitely want to keep educating people, hopefully somehow through animals,” said Hannah. “I definitely will continue royalty though. Being Miss Rodeo Colorado would be so great.”
When asked if she will pursue the title of Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo queen in the future, Hannah gave a huge smile. “I probably will. There is a very strong possibility of it,” said Hannah. ”I see no reason not to. I’ve now found a good balance, doing school, having fun with friends, 4-H, why not?”
To follow the journey of the Thomas sisters and their 2022 reign as Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo royalty, you can find them on Facebook at tinyurl.com/stampederoyalty and Instagram @elizabethstampederodeoroyalty.
You can also find more information at the Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo website at elizabethstampede.com.