By Shane Richard Bell
She speaks in front of large groups of people. She models, poses for pictures, and partakes in interviews with the media. She skillfully rides, jumps, and showcases horses. She knows the rodeo, has a vision for its future, and loves to reach out to the fans. That’s why Coeur d’Alene native Caitlin Thornton was crowned Miss Rodeo Idaho 2012.
Thornton will be visiting the North Idaho Fair Friday, Aug. 24 through Sunday Aug. 26. This rodeo will be one of around sixty she is scheduled to attend this year, but the North Idaho Fair is her favorite, says Thornton. “It’s the one I grew up watching and you also get some of the top cowboys throughout the country. One cowboy, Trevor Brazile, I met is the best cowboy in the country, and nobody can beat him right now.”
The cowboys are a great source of inspiration to Thornton. “These guys are real, hard working people. They love the sport and they love the fans,” Thornton said. Oftentimes a cowboy will perform around 100 rodeos per year. “They are very determined. You don’t meet many people who travel with a horse trailer as much as they do. These guys are not only competing but they’re great friends and they are willing to help anybody out. It’s a really tight knit family. You can ask any of these guys for help and they will help you.”
Cowboys aren’t the only ones who work hard for the rodeo, though. “When I originally won, I don’t think it really sunk in. I had been working since January and it was July,” Thornton said. “So when I put on the banner and the crown for the first time at the rodeo, it fully sunk in that this is what I am going to be doing for the next year,” said Thornton, speaking of her announcement as Miss Rodeo Idaho 2012 in July of 2011. As winner of Miss Rodeo Idaho, she won awards for personality, rodeo knowledge, photography, and horsemanship.
Rodeo was the goal for Thornton but many other experiences were the steps. She joined 4-H in Coeur d’Alene, and trained younger horses to compete on with her father. “My dad grew up on a ranch in Southern Idaho. He has the horse bug,” Thornton said, “but I really had it bad, and it kind of blossomed from there and it didn’t stop.” Her father fully supports Caitlin’s choices. “I would rather have her fooling around with horses than horsing around with fools,” said Dan Thornton. Caitlin agrees: “Going out and riding was the best thing I could have done growing up.”
As an ambassador of rodeo, Thornton has the opportunity to educate people in the arena of rodeo. Thornton takes pleasure in answering questions from people who have never been to a rodeo. “It’s about being able to transform someone who has never been to a rodeo before into someone who is going to come back and bring family and friends and be lifetime fans,” Thornton said.
Mentoring girls is one of Thornton’s greatest missions as a rodeo queen because she relates her past to her present position, using both to reach the next generation of rodeo. “These girls look up to whoever is Miss Rodeo because they want to be her someday. The sport of rodeo and being a rodeo queen cannot continue unless we have a good future to go on to,” Thornton said.
Thornton admits her journey hasn’t been flawless. “I’ve been told I walk like a cowboy. Modeling for me has been very hard. I was never at the top. In high school I was in the middle of the pack, but now being at the top of the pack, it’s been very unusual. But now I have gotten used to it,” Thornton said.
Now, Thornton feels comfortable in her role. “I can talk a lot and have a great conversation. I can talk to anybody and inform them about the sport.”
Three weeks ago, while Thornton was moving equipment out of the arena to make room for a rodeo event, a little girl spotted the rodeo queen through the slats of the fence. “Are you a real princess?” the girl asked. Turning around, Thornton smiled and said “yes.”
A schedule for the 2012 PRCA Rodeo at the North Idaho Fair can be found on the above page. “This sport was made for all families to watch and appreciate and enjoy. And what is so great is that this fair and rodeo can bring a family together, for at least one night, “ Thornton said.