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NEW HOPE, Ala. – 20-year-old Kylee Campbell didn’t come from a rodeo or horse family, but she has always loved horses. Standing in the arena at the New Hope Saddle Club, she smiled and said, “My mom tells the story all the time, I had a pink sparkly barn when I was two years old and I’d press a button and open the barn up and I’d train horses to fly.”

Kylee was always told she was too young or too small for riding lessons. That is until Judy Johnson rode into the picture. Kylee begged Judy to teach her to ride. “We had a lesson,” she told said, “And after that, she said to my mom, ‘when do y’all want to come out again?’” Kylee was 10.

“And since then, Judy’s put me on ponies that really for the most broke, the most well trained but we got them there,” she said, “But I had a lot of time eating dirt in this arena actually.”

That New Hope arena dirt has been in her blood for 11 years now. “I’ve been competing in western pleasure, horsemanship, English pleasure, barrels, poles, anything and everything,” she said proudly. This cowgirl can ride.

“If you want to put me on a barrel horse for the western pleasure class where you’re supposed to go slow, I’ll ride that barrel horse and smile like I’m on a world champion pleasure horse. I don’t care,” she said with a smile, “I just love riding.”

Along the way, she became interested in the pageant side of rodeo. But it’s more than a beauty contest. You have to know a lot about equine science. “I would help the vet, you know, stick my hand up the horse’s mouth,” she said, “We would breed horses occasionally and so I’d help with the breeding and just learning anything and everything I could from them, and it’s been a wonderful experience.”

Kylee won the national Miss Rodeo USA title for the International Professional Rodeo Association this year. The six-day competition includes personal interviews and what they know about horses. “If your horse gets a scrape, if it’s got a runny nose, what does that mean? “she said. Kylee continued, “If a horse gets hung up and gashed and blood everywhere, what do you do in that situation? And you have to know how to handle it.”

They also have to mode, give speeches, and take a written test. “It was a hundred questions this year,” she said with a laugh.

“I did pretty good,” she said smiling, “I didn’t win the written test but there were only four problems that I was unsure of.”

Kylee will spend the next year traveling the rodeo circuit as Miss Rodeo USA. “We’ll be out there, and we’ll help set barrels. We’ll help with timers,” she said.

And she’s not planning to ride off into the sunset any time soon. When I asked if she was going to compete when she gave up her crown, she quickly said with a laugh, “Heck yeah, that’s the plan.”

Kylee’s hoping to start her own non-profit someday to mentor kids who may not have the money to jump into the arena of horse competition but have the passion for it like she did as a child. She’s also taking a year off from school but plans to return next year to work on her degree at the University of Alabama where she’s a member of the school’s western team.