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Riding into the spotlight

Claire Eskwith

Queen Hanna Nelson, 15, says she has loved using her title to contribute to the community.

“I love the thrill of it, and being able to represent the county as a great place,” says Nelson. “The rodeo has given me so much and it is great to be able to pay it back.”

Nelson beat four other girls in a complex competition for the title. Her term will last one year.



Nelson and the rodeo princess, Jocelyn Irwin, were judged on their ability to handle horses, ride with a flag, salute, write an essay on why they wanted to be rodeo queen, model Western attire, complete a private interview and give a three-minute speech on the value of freedom.

As rodeo royalty, Nelson and Irwin are required to ride a grand entrance around the arena at every rodeo event, turn out for guest appearances at other rodeos, and participate in such events as the Eagle Fourth of July, Gypsum Days and Eagle Flight Days parades.



Nelson and Irwin will take the spotlight again Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the PRCA Rodeo and Family Night.

“My favorite thing about about being princess is getting to ride in the rodeos in front of everyone,” says Irwin, a seventh-grader at Vail Mountain School.

As a sophomore at Eagle Valley High School, Nelson is also an active skier with Ski Club Vail, attends the Vail Ski Academy during the winter and avidly competes in 4-H horse shows and livestock events.



Nelson will showcase pigs she has raised at the Eagle Fair on Thursday morning, and in Monday’s 4-H Western Horse Show, she placed in the top three in two events with her horse, Chief Vesuvius.

“She’s a real cowgirl,” says Nelson’s mother, Ann Nelson. “The best thing about her being the rodeo queen is that besides the flashy clothes and attention, she is learning to do things for others, represent her community and be a role model.”

Nelson has been riding horses all her life. She fell in love with riding when she was 6 years old while she worked on her family’s ranch on the Colorado River Road near Sweetwater.

“I love riding just because it is fun,” says Nelson. “It’s great to ride on a horse and have a thousand-pound animal do what you ask it to – it’s amazing.”

Nelson lives on the Luark Quarter Circle L. Ranch, where she helps brand calves, control cattle, run her family’s overnight guest service, and sell honey produced from the family’s bee farm.

Having rodeo royalty is a tradition of rodeos across the nation, and Nelson says she greatly values that she is participating in the Eagle rodeo, which has been in existence since 1939.

“Western riding is an important part of our heritage and a foundation of Eagle County,” says Nelson.

In competition, Nelson exudes confidence, rides her horse with poise, and is known within the local 4-H community as a kind and outgoing person.

She has been a member of the 4-H program for 10 years and has competed in other small horse shows.

“Hanna is a very nice girl and she has shown a lot of improvement in her horses over the last few years,” says 4-H event coordinator Jenny Wood. “She has good control over her horse and is friendly to everybody.”

Nelson’s step sister was dubbed Eagle County’s rodeo queen in 1999, and ever since, Nelson has been interested in becoming rodeo queen.

Last year, she served as attendant to the princess.

“My friends are proud of me because it was always a dream of mine to be the rodeo queen,” says Nelson. “It feels so great, it is so much fun and it is great to have the appreciation of everyone in the community. It’s a lot of work, but it pays off.”

Nelson and Irwin have attendants who help them in their royal tasks and will fill in for either of them if they are unable to fulfill their duties.

Brianna Ehlert, a senior at Eagle Valley High School and avid barrel racer, is the attendant to Nelson. Britney Smith, a 12-year-old Gypsum Creek Middle School student, is the attendant for Irwin.

The rodeo royalty began their term June 20. Along with their titles, the queen and princess each received new riding equipment and, of course, a tiara and sash.

Nelson said she wants to compete for the title of Miss Rodeo Colorado, eventually hopes to try out for Miss Rodeo America and encourages other girls to get involved with horses and consider becoming queen.

“All you need to have is a smile on your face and a good attitude,” says Nelson.


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