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9:51 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Winners' circle: Katie Hill is first runner-up to Miss Rodeo America

The Daily Courier/Les Stukenberg
Prescott resident and Miss Rodeo Arizona Katie Rose Hill won the Horsemanship Award at the Miss Rodeo America pageant at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas last week.

The Daily Courier/Les Stukenberg Prescott resident and Miss Rodeo Arizona Katie Rose Hill won the Horsemanship Award at the Miss Rodeo America pageant at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas last week.

PRESCOTT - Katie Hill may not have walked away from the Miss Rodeo America Pageant with the title, but she came close enough to feel like the winner - as the first runner-up and as the recipient of the Horsemanship Award.

"She did a phenomenal job," said J.C. Trujillo, general manager of Prescott Frontier Days Inc., Katie's sponsor, and a champion cowboy himself.

Trujillo - a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Hall of Fame - was in Las Vegas during the week leading up to the

Dec. 8 coronation of Miss Rodeo America. Miss Rodeo Kansas Amy Wilson won the coveted title of 2008 Miss Rodeo America and will serve as a goodwill ambassador for the sport of professional rodeo during the coming year. The pageant is in conjunction with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Katie says her run for the national title was one of the best experiences of her life.

"This was the first time that I really worked hard for something - put my heart and soul into it - and it's really gratifying to come out on top," she said. Should anything happen to Wilson in the coming year, being runner-up means that Katie would step in to fill Wilson's shoes - something that has only happened once in the past 50 years.

"But I have faith that Amy will do a really good job, and I hope it never comes to that," Katie said. She added that not winning the top spot was not a disappointment because she and the 26 other young women in the competition became friends and worked well together throughout the weeklong pageant. They became so close, they are already e-mailing one another and planning a reunion, Katie said.

"That was the hardest part," Katie said. "After the coronation, everybody left."

After a week's worth of constant togetherness - the women were sequestered while they learned their dance routines, were interviewed by the judges and took written tests on current events and various equine topics - it was hard to say goodbye, Katie added.

Trujillo said Katie should be very proud of winning the Horsemanship Award and the silver show saddle - presented by Bill Brewer, executive vice president of the American Quarter Horse Association - that goes with it.

Next to the Miss Rodeo America title, the Horsemanship Award "is undoubtedly the most prestigious" of all the other titles, Trujillo said.

Pageant officials bestow the Horsemanship Award on the young woman who most successfully completes a series of horsemanship tests, including two riding tests on two unfamiliar horses. One test is a set pattern that the riders must follow, and the other is a freestyle performance the rider creates. The hardest part is the unpredictability of riding two strange horses.

"You don't know what you can and can't do, because of the horse you're on," Katie explained.

Trujillo said this was the first time he attended the coronation event, although he has been in plenty of championship showdowns himself.

"We were all white-knuckled and pretty nervous," he said. "She came so close. I thought she had it. She did a phenomenal job."

Katie said she was never nervous during the weeklong competition because she had prepared as hard as she could.

"There's hours and hours and hours of studying," she said.

During the week, sleep was at a premium - the women only got about three hours of sleep each night. They had to be up and ready to begin their days by 7 a.m. and their last function did not end until around 10 p.m.

"It's hard to describe how difficult it is to go there and compete," Katie said. "I don't think if I had planned it, it could have gone any better. I tried to go up there knowing ... the most important thing to be is to be myself."

Katie will finish her Miss Rodeo Arizona duties in May. After that, she will go back to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo where she is a junior pursuing a degree in photojournalism with a minor in agricultural communication. She eventually plans to work on her master's degree at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.