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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.