There's no getting around the fact that October in Madison Square Garden is the World Series to rodeo riders. It's an event where 14,000 people a night get together over a span of three weeks to watch the absolute top performers in trick riding, calf roping and bronco busting. Roy Rogers is the head man of the show—he's that movie guy with the chuck-wagon warble.
This month a couple of Eastern girls named Nancy and Joan Chambers have been featured. Their father is a horse dealer in an upstate New York town, Montgomery. They managed to make mild history at the Garden this year because Nancy became the official queen just two years after her sister had done the same thing. Both made it at the age of 18, which is the youngest age at which you are eligible to compete for the honor.
A SIMPLE, COMPLICATED BUSINESS
The way you get to be the queen of the rodeo is almost as simple as it is complicated. First of all, you've got to get sponsored by a dude ranch. This was simple enough for Nancy and Joan because their father has friends who own and operate the Cimarron Ranch in Putnam Valley, N. Y. They were born and brought up with horses all over the place. In fact, Mr. Chambers journeys out West early every spring where he buys up a lot of them—usually 30 to 40—for breeding and selling back East.
Both girls have taken turns going out with him on these buying trips. This spring they didn't go because, early in May, they cut out on their own to "make the horse shows." With their steeds they took off in a two-ton truck to barnstorm through New York, New Jersey and New England. They managed to pick up enough prize money at rodeos here and there to cover expenses and show a reasonable profit.
When they get to a town where they're going to ride for money, they don't go to a hotel or a motel. They go to the stable where their horses stay. They spread out their cots (sometimes air mattresses) and sleep cheaply but well.
They started riding early in their lives. Joan, the queen of two years ago, first got into the saddle at the age of three. Nancy, this year's rodeo royalty, didn't get going until the ripe old age of four. But she caught up fast.
To cop the queen's crown at the Garden rodeo you have to beat out 20 to 30 other ranch-sponsored girls, all between the ages of 18 and 25. (This year Nancy had to beat out 27 of them.) You get the judges' nod on the basis of 45% horsemanship, 40% on how your horse performs, 15% on your personality and looks.
Ex-queen Joan is a handy girl around a horse hostelry. She actually shoes her own horse. She also dreams up, and then makes, the outfits that both she and Nancy wear in their public exhibitions. She's got an excited way about her that seems to transfer itself to horses.
For instance this year she was ineligible to compete as queen (once you win it you're through). But she was in the Garden show just the same, as a barrel-racer. A barrel-racer is a rider who races her horse around three barrels set in clover-leaf formation on the dirt floor of the Garden. If you knock a barrel over, you're out. If you don't, a stop watch has you clocked down to the split second. And to the fastest goes a daily prize of $25. Joan came in first on all of the first three barrel-races this year.
A HUNDRED A WEEK—PLUS PRIZES
As to being queen, Nancy says that all you really have to do after winning the honor is to ride out on your horse when the band's fanfare opens the show. You are introduced, along with the officials, to the crowd. You take your bow and then, with your long hair streaming under your hat which is usually custard colored and shaped true western style, you shoot out the exit. The last that the big crowd sees of the queen is a pair of young, flashing legs in tight, cowgirl pants, apparently headed for the last round-up. For this, the queen is paid a hundred dollars a week, plus prizes.
It's nice work when you get it. Joan and Nancy don't intend to leave the horse-show business. They have no college in mind. For them, the trail will lead, again, to this hamlet and that. It doesn't make much difference where, as long as there's a rodeo with a chance to ride for the money. They'll set out again next May, be back at the Garden next fall. They're what you might call horse-happy.
Nancy has been busy with a lot of other things besides horses. She graduated from high school last June and, during her years there, she did a lot more than homework. She was queen of her Junior Prom, played the lead part in her senior play, and was cheerleader for the pigskin luggers.
It seems unfair, though, to screen out one character who had a lot to do with Nancy becoming queen. That's a horse named Sue—Nancy's own. Sue is a Quarter Horse, bought by Mr. Chambers in Oklahoma on one of his buying trips a few years ago. There's no question in Nancy's mind that Sue should share the glory of being crowned this year's queen of the rodeo.
QUEEN NANCY (LEFT) AND EX-QUEEN JOAN RIDE INTO GARDEN'S BRIGHT LIGHTS