Ironton resident named Miss Rodeo West Virginia

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Miss Rodeo West Virginia 2003 actually calls Ohio her home and can share the excitement with her best friend who was named the first ever Jr. Miss Rodeo Ohio.

Ironton resident Leslie Best, daughter of Dee Ann Staley and Lonnie Best, earned the designation of Miss Rodeo West Virginia last month. Best made her first appearance at the Lonestar Rodeo in Huntington, W. Va., and will represent the state next year at the national competition.

Having one rodeo queen in the family was exciting enough, but Staley decided to start a new program. To address a lack of opportunities for younger riders in this region, Staley talked with the director of the Miss Rodeo USA and appointed Nikki Cosner, 13, as the Jr. Miss Rodeo Ohio to start the new program.

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Both girls' smiles light up their faces as they work with the animals they


Although horses have been a part of her life as long as she can remember, the 20-year-old Best did not expect to win the competition that was open to riders from the ages 18 to 24.

"I did not know what was going on," she said. "I just thought I was going to the event to have fun."

She was invited to an interview the same day she returned from school at Hocking College, in Nelsonville. She was judged on her horsemanship and personality before the rodeo and given her crown a mere 30-minutes before she had to take center stage.

"I was stunned. I could not think. It was truly breathtaking," she said. "I got the crown and did the grand entry. I cannot describe how nervous I was."

Staley was probably as excited as Leslie.

"I just stood there with my mouth hanging open," she said when she was notified by phone that Leslie won. "They said 'by the way, the rodeo starts at 7, can you be here with a horse?'"

Much of their family is from West Virginia, but residency is not a requirement to represent the state. Miss Rodeo just has to know the area and know rodeos, Staley said.

Overall, Best said she was most nervous about the responsibilities that come with winning. She must perform community service work, present a positive image and keep a good attitude.

In January 2004, Best will travel to Oklahoma City to enter the Miss Rodeo USA pageant, sponsored by the International Professional Rodeo Association. She said she feels pretty good about her chances in Oklahoma.

"My goal this year is to do a lot of community service," she said. "I plan to attend grade schools, nursing homes, hospitals and other rodeos as Miss Rodeo West Virginia"

While some high school students ask for cars for graduation, Leslie wanted a horse for her present.

"They gave me an ultimatum between a vehicle or a horse," Leslie said. "I chose the horse."

She got a good one in the 17-year-old Palomino, a registered Quarter Horse the family affectionately calls Hank. Leslie rode him in the rodeo.

"When we first got him we called him Lefty, but that just did not fit," she said. "We started calling him Hank. His registered name is Raise A. Sundance, but to me he is just Hank."

In 2002, Hank had top 10 finishes in showmanship and halterhorse by the Tri-State Horseman's Association. Last October, Best place eighth in the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, the largest horse show in the world.

Because riders from the ages 12 to 16 have fewer opportunities on the East Coast, Staley decided to facilitate the creation of a Jr. Miss Rodeo Ohio.

"Maybe we can promote some younger girls to get interested in rodeo," Staley said. "We can start teaching them the rules, promoting it and sponsor an event in Lawrence County."

Cosner said she is thrilled to be honored as the first Jr. Miss Rodeo Ohio.

"I was surprised when I heard about it," she said. "Everyone knew it but me."

Staley said Cosner is very deserving and is the perfect person to kick-off the junior division.

"Nikki is selfless in giving her time and effort," Staley said. "She went to Kansas City, Mo., with the Mighty Oaks Little Peanuts Therapeutic Riding School and will go to Oklahoma City with Miss Ohio Julie Huddle and Leslie."

Both girls want to get into the community and speak about rodeo and animal health and welfare, Staley said.

"Rodeo is just a big family thing," she said. "That is what we want to promote."