By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
This is a story about a beauty queen. And if you think that sounds like an odd subject for the Sports section, consider that this beauty queen can maneuver a speeding horse more ably than most of us could ever dream, and tie up a goat’s legs in a matter of seconds. In fact, horsemanship is one of the key elements of her pageantry.
Gracie Pachie isn’t just any beauty queen. She’s the reigning, and reining, California High School Rodeo Queen. This weekend, the incoming Middletown High senior will compete for the national title at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyo., an event billed by some as the largest rodeo in the world.
“I think people have that stereotype where rodeo queens just have pretty faces,” Pachie said recently. “But we can do all the riding others can. And we have to be well rounded. We’re not afraid to jump in and talk to little kids or have our picture taken with them. We’re there to promote rodeo.”
And specifically to promote high school rodeo, something Pachie seems almost destined to do.
Her father, Louie, has been riding horses “his entire life,” according to Gracie, and her mom, Patsy, got involved when she met Louie. Gracie’s older sister, Becca, currently competes in breakaway roping and goat tying for Colorado State University. Her younger brother, Tanner, qualified for Junior Nationals this year in goat tying and ribbon roping. All of them have learned their craft at the family’s 4-acre property in Middletown.
Gracie Pachie has taken a similar path in some ways, while distinguishing herself from the rest of the family in another.
Pachie first sat atop a horse when she was 3, was performing at gymkhanas at 6 or 7, and has been on the high school/junior high circuit since seventh grade. Her events have included goat tying, which involves riding at full speed to a leashed goat, dismounting on the fly and tying together the goat’s legs; pole bending, which is sort of a slalom course for equestrians; and barrel racing, in which the rider pivots around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern.
More recently, Pachie has gotten involved in cutting, a more complex and methodical event that requires utmost communication between horse and rider. Her partner is Minnie, a 22-year-old mare. Her coach (for this and many other events through the years) is Tereasa Canada.
“It’s definitely one of the tougher events, because you have go in a herd of cattle and sort out the cow, and not let her get back into the herd,” Pachie said of cutting.
These events require strength, tenacity and a willingness to get dirty. But even while she was riding and roping, Pachie was cultivating another skill set. She yearned to wear the tiara.
“I’ve kind of always been an outgoing, outspoken person,” Pachie said. “That’s why I really wanted to be involved in rodeo queen. It’s not really a challenge for me.”
Many aspects of the rodeo queen competition sound a lot like any other beauty pageant, a category of contest that has lost some of its popularity in the era of Title IX. Gracie and her fellow contestants are judged largely on appearance and personality. They must perfect the “beauty queen wave.” Each gives a speech, answers impromptu questions to gauge how well they think on their feet and engages in a personal interview that tests their knowledge of high school rodeo.
But there is a talent portion of the competition, and because this is the rodeo circuit, that talent is horsemanship. Would-be queens enter the arena on horseback and move through a detailed reining pattern, showing the various lead changes — shifting the horse’s “lead leg,” sometimes while going from a canter to a trot or vice versa.
“It’s definitely like a beauty pageant, except with horses,” Pachie said. “We spend as much time on our makeup as any other pageant.”
In essence, the rodeo queen is supposed to be an ambassador for her sport.
“They want a really well-rounded girl who not only knows how to ride, but is able to talk on TV, talk on the radio and is really personable,” Pachie said.
Pachie keeps a busy calendar. She is chapter president of the Middletown chapter of Future Farmers of America, will be student body vice president at the high school in the coming year, participates in mock trial and shows dogs in American Kennel Club events.
But the rodeo is her first love. She was named rodeo queen of her district each of the past two years, which allowed her to compete against other district winners at the California High School Rodeo Finals in Bishop. In 2014 she was runner-up. This time she wore the crown, becoming the North Coast’s first state queen in 15 years.
Now it’s on to Wyoming. Despite the Pachies’ immersion in the sport, the family has never been to the Rock Springs rodeo. It’s a weeklong event, with the Rodeo Queen pageant slated for the final three days. Gracie is cautiously optimistic, as any true cowgirl might be.
“Honestly, for the national competition, going in there I hope to place within the top 20,” she said. “There will be girls at the national competition who have been doing beauty pageants and queen competitions since they were 4. They have all the clothing. It’s just natural for them. But I want to make a mark.”