On the last day of the Clackamas County Fair, at Saturday night's rodeo, Miss Rodeo Oregon 2017 Kayla Vincent passed the crown to Jessi Cornforth of Oregon City.
"Being crowned Miss Rodeo Oregon 2018 was not just a dream, but a goal of mine for many years," Cornforth said. "And the cherry on top was hearing my name called as I stood in my favorite rodeo arena surrounded by friends and family."
Cornforth is 23 years old and a recent graduate of Oregon State University with a Bachelor's in Exercise and Sports Science and a minor in Psychology. Though her family had never owned horses, Jessi's parents, Denis and Cheri Cornforth, bought her a horse when she was nine. She has been learning and riding ever since. In 2016, she went on to buy herself a quarter horse gelding, named Dually, who she brought with her to the pageant.
The Miss Rodeo Oregon title comes after Cornforth competed with two other contestants in a four-day pageant that took place during the fair.
"Miss Rodeo Oregon represents every rodeo in Oregon instead of having a specific rodeo like other title holders do," said Randi Johnson, one of the contestants. "And Canby has been kind enough for the last five years to actually host our pageant."
Johnson is from Hines and the first contestant to come from Southeastern Oregon in many years. Her contestant biography notes that "she was in the saddle before she could walk, and competing in rodeos before she was in kindergarten." She will be a senior at Eastern Oregon University next year, where she is pursuing a degree in English and Writing.
The third contestant, Nicole Rice, comes from Scappoose. Rice attended Scappoose High School where she participated in cheerleading and equestrian team and volunteered as an outdoor school leader. She plans to continue her education in the fall at Northwest College of Beauty. She ran for Miss Rodeo Oregon with the hopes of broadening rodeo's fan base.
"We had three wonderful young ladies, and they all did very well," said the National Director for Miss Rodeo Oregon Lynn Haynes. "I'm very proud of all of them."
Over the course of the four days, the three contestants participated in knowledge-based tests and interviews, horse showmanship, media interaction, a fashion show and more…all without access to their cell phones.
"We don't get phone access while we're here," Rice said.
The restriction of the girls' cell phones emulates the Miss Rodeo America pageant, where the Miss Rodeo Oregon winner will go on to compete. During that pageant, contestants spend a full ten days having no contact with their families.
Three judges decided the results of the Miss Rodeo Oregon pageant. Laura Lynn Kessler and her husband Mark Kessler came from Florida to judge the event. Haynes said that the Kesslers have judged Miss Rodeo America before and have been involved in other rodeos. Laura Lynn also sang the National Anthem at the Canby Rodeo on Thursday. The third judge, Brian Hall, has judged contests all over the United States.
"They're looking for someone who's put together, who can ride a horse well, someone who can speak in public," Haynes said. "There's a saying in the pageant world: titles are won and lost in the interviews."
Haynes said that with these three contestants, the judges had a difficult decision. But ultimately, Cornforth came away with the title Saturday night. Cornforth is now a "lady in waiting" and will reign from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 of 2018.
"The outpouring of support before, during, and after the pageant was incredible," Cornforth said.
Cornforth will go on to represent Oregon in the Miss Rodeo America pageant for the 2019 crown. Oregon's very first Miss Rodeo Oregon, Judee Fisher, won the Miss Rodeo America 1958 crown, but stepped down for personal reasons. It was many years later that Oregon captured the national crown again when Miss Rodeo Oregon 2011 Mackenzie Carr from Vernonia was crowned Miss Rodeo America 2012.
While Oregon's pageant came to a halt Saturday night, Cornforth's ride is just beginning.
She said, "I am so lucky to be able represent my favorite sport and hope to make the state of Oregon very proud."