ZEPHYRHILLS — Devon Firestone says she can’t recall exactly when she started riding horses.
As a baby “a couple days after I was brought home from the hospital I was brought into the barn, so I’ve been around horses all my life,” said the 20-year-old Zephyrhills High graduate.
Firestone is the current Miss Rodeo Florida, which could be defined as what happens when you cross a cowgirl with a pageant queen.
Firestone won a variety of pageants growing up, but combining her pageant experience with horsemanship just fit her, she said. She has the bloodlines for her love of horses.
Her grandmother, Terry Painter, trained race horses.
“I really like rodeo queening, because it’s me. Rodeo is my passion,” she said.
She won her first rodeo title when she was 13.
Miss Rodeo Florida is a part of the Miss Rodeo America Inc. system, which is part of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association.
The various Miss Rodeos are the ambassadors of the association.
Firestone thinks rodeo queening is tougher than scholarship pageants.
“To be a rodeo queen is a lot more challenging than scholarship,” she said.
“As a rodeo queen, not only do we have to know about the sport of rodeo, we have to be up on current events. You have to know how to ride a horse and know how to do [rodeo] arena jobs.”
Rodeo queens are expected to help in the arenas during association rodeos, such as the one held at the Pasco County Fair each year.
The Miss Rodeo competition is held for three days and involves a written test, two interviews, a speech, four on-stage questions and two horse-handling demonstrations on unfamiliar horses.
“Both horses you’ve never seen,” Firestone said. “The first time you see them is the day of the horsemanship pattern. You kind of have to just go with it and hope for the best.”
Additionally, Firestone explained, the contestants are with the judges the entire time.
“While we’re in the pageant, we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with the judges, so they are judging us from the time we walk in until the day somebody gets crowned.”
The trail to Miss Rodeo is beneficial, Firestone said.
“There are a lot of things it does. It really helps you become very outgoing; you get to meet a lot of new people and it opens doors.
“It’s definitely a gateway to new opportunities,” she added.
As Miss Rodeo Florida, Firestone has gone as far as she can in the Florida competition and is qualified to compete for the title of Miss Rodeo America in November and December.
The Miss Rodeo America Pageant will be held in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel. It is an expensive endeavor. The seven-day pageant requires 10 outfits, three or four of them being dresses that often have to be custom-made of leather or some other western-style fabric and designed in western tradition.
Firestone and her mother, Rickie, are working to raise money for the pageant.
Recently, Firestone, along with her mother and grandmother, held a Cow Chip Bingo game at Sparklebration on the Pasco County Fairgrounds.
The rodeo queen also gets a lot of support from Pasco County Fair Association board member LeAnne McKendree Johns, who was Miss Rodeo Florida 1999.
Another Zephyrhills resident, Rachel O’Connor, was Miss Rodeo Florida in 2006 and made it to fourth runner-up in the national competition.
Firestone is an online student at St. Petersburg College, although she has taken some time off to pursue the national title.
“After Miss Rodeo Florida is over, I will finish school and become a large-animal massage therapist,” she said. “Just like us they are also athletes, and we need to keep them in tip-top condition.”
Anyone wanting to support Firestone in her pursuit of Miss Rodeo America can email her at [email protected] .com or visit the “sponsors” page at the Miss Rodeo Florida website: www.miss rodeoflorida.com.