Saddle Up

Senior editor Pamela Colloff, who trailed five young women as they vied for the title of rodeo queen, talks about small towns and big dreams. How did the idea for this story come about?

PC: A friend of mine who’s a filmmaker happened to go to last year’s Llano rodeo, and he was fascinated by the rodeo queen contest. He thought about making a documentary about it, but was generous enough to let me write an article first. What was the most interesting thing you learned while doing this story?

PC: Well, the most interesting things I learned I couldn’t actually include in my article. And I can’t repeat them here, either. Llano is a small town, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. People told me all sorts of rumors—a few of them about the queen contestants and their families. I’ll never know what was true or untrue, but it was interesting to listen. Superficially, everyone in Llano was friendly and nice to one another. But there was a lot going on beneath the surface. Being from New York, did you find it hard to relate to these girls?

PC: Not at all. I had a different teenage experience than these girls did. I didn’t own a horse or live in the country. But being a teenager is essentially the same anywhere. You have to figure out your identity, and where you fit in the world, and what sort of person you want to become. I have a lot of respect for these girls, because they are strong and confident and almost fearless—much more so than I

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