The Wild West meets beauty pageants as Little Miss Silver Spurs rodeo queen is crowned – but where are the tantrums and competitive moms
For one night each year, the lights in the Kissimmee, Florida, Silver Spurs Arena shine down not on stamping bulls, unflinching cowboys and expert lasso technique, but on a group of pretty young girls in their very best ranch attire.
The annual search to find Miss Silver Spurs and Little Miss Silver Spurs is very much a local affair – open to those who live in Osceola County only – but its queens have an important part to play in the national cattle ranching culture.
And while they look their hair-curled, ironed and polished best, that is where similarities between child beauty pageants such as Toddlers and Tiaras end. No tears, no tantrums, no outfit changes and scholarships as prizes make the event a very different kind of competition.
Little Miss dancing queen: Caitlin Harris, the 2011 Little Miss Silver Spurs, leads the current contestants during a dance to kick off the 2012 pageant
While the Little Miss Silver Spurs 2012 prize went to 10-year-old Miss Courtney Clair of St Cloud County, spirits remained high for losing peer Rachel Shirah, whose 17-year-old sister was crowned Miss Silver Spurs at the 2011 pageant.
As a disappointed but upbeat Rachel, 11, acknowledges her loss with a conciliatory 'oh, well', her father, Tim Shirah, calmly explained that 'you never know how the judges will call it.'
Despite preparing with the help of her mother Beth, who gave Rachel a layer of mascara, eye shadow and lip-gloss, and much practice at her ranch home, it was not to be the rodeo hopeful's year.
Victorious: Courtney Clair, 10, from St Cloud, Florida, is crowned Little Miss Silver Spurs after impressing the judges across all categories
As Sheila Shirah's year of representing the famous not-for-profit club, established in 1941, comes to an end, Melissa Albert, 18, of Kissimmee moves into the public role.
Wendy Jeannin of the Silver Spurs club told MailOnline that contestants have to have good school grades or a High School diploma or GED to enter the pageant. Entry forms even include a section for school details so that judges can perform background checks on the high-flying pupils.
Rodeo drive: The Little Miss Silver Spurs contestants line up in front of the audience of 800 and judging panel (left), while Rachel Shirah is followed off the stage by her father a good-natured Tim Shirah
Ms Jeannin explained: 'It's a year-long commitment – they become ambassadors and help promote and represent rodeo.'
a lot more to it' than beauty, she said. 'It's definitely not a beauty
pageant, These girls are awarded with scholarships.' She explained that
prize money is strictly earmarked to go towards the girls' education
only, with Little Miss Silver Spurs awarded $500 and Miss Silver Spurs
taking home $1,000.
Warpaint: Rachel's mother Beth Shirah helps her daughter prepare for the evening ahead, with a coat of mascara, lip-gloss and rollers for requisite country curls
Lookin' pretty: Rachel Shirah, 11, has her lips painted by her mother Beth on the morning of the 52nd Miss and Little Miss Silver Spurs Pageant
At last night's pageant, girls battled it out in front of an audience of 800 and a panel of judges made up of Miss Rodeo America and two locally prominent officials.
Girls, aged nine to 11 for the Little Miss category and 16 to 21 for the Miss category, pay an entry fee of $85 each and are asked, on their not undetailed application forms, to name hobbies and interests and to specify what they'd like to do when they grow up.
Their favourite music, TV programme, singer, actor, rodeo event and movie are all questioned, as are pets' names as club managers whittle down entries for suitable candidates for the voluntary roles.
Take to the mike: Rachel is handed the microphone before delivering her one minute welcome speech. Contestants were told to keep it 'short, sweet and age appropriate'
Watching on: Rachel watches as the crowd greets the winners of the pageant. She seemed upbeat about her loss, saying 'Oh, well'
They are judged on appearance,
knowledge of the rodeo sport, history and traditions of the Silver Spurs
club and have to deliver a welcome speech and take part in a Q&A
Leaving nothing to chance, guidance for the compulsory one minute speech – delivered to the entire crowd – specifies that it needs to be 'short, sweet, to the point and age appropriate'.
Outgoing queen: Sheila Shirah, 17, the 2011 Miss Silver Spurs, rides around the arena during a prayer at the start of the Silver Spurs Monster Bull event this weekend
The 16- to 21-year-olds, competing for Miss Silver Spurs, also have to prove their horsemanship skills, competing a pattern of running with the horse and performing specific horseback challenges, said Ms Jeannin.
Silver Spurs, a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, is a power house in cattle ranching performance.
Over he goes: Greg Hall of Carrier, Mississippi, attempts to ride “Big Boy” during the Silver Spurs Monster Bull event, he wears a traditional Stetson instead of something more safety conscious
The club stages the largest rodeo competition east of the Mississippi – and as such, has its own very own rodeo queen culture. Cowboys and cowgirls will come head-to-head at this weekend's annual rodeo event, and winners of the 128th Silver Spurs Rodeo will head to the national finals in Las Vegas.
As much as the pageant is tied into the deep local traditions of cattle ranching, there is an element of showmanship to the rodeo circuit.
This is Florida, after all, said Ms Jeannin, and 'we're here with Disney.'