CONWAY — Lots of young girls go through the “I-want-a-pony” phase, but Stephanie Kaeppel of Conway never outgrew it.
“I was just that little girl who had the horse dream and never lost it,” she said.
Kaeppel, 23, got her horse and achieved another dream this year — becoming Miss Arkansas Rodeo 2014. Her reign began in January.
An Arizona native, she moved to Arkansas with her mother and grandparents when she was in the eighth grade.
“When I moved here, we never owned horses or anything like that,” she said. “We weren’t a horse family. Finally, after begging and begging and begging, we bought some land and some horses. We got a brother-and-sister pair when I was about 11 or 12.”
Kaeppel (it rhymes with apple) said she “fiddled around” with the horses but didn’t know how to ride properly until Nikki Murdock of Quitman taught her.
Murdock, who gave riding lessons for 11 years in Greenbrier, said Kaeppel was “one of my star students.”
“She applied what she heard and saw and worked very hard,” Murdock said.
Kaeppel started participating in pole bending, goat tying, barrel racing and breakaway roping through the Southern Junior Rodeo Association.
As she got older, she joined the Arkansas High School Rodeo Association, “and Nikki really got me into roping,” Kaeppel said.
In high school, she continued the events she’d entered in junior rodeo.
“I always placed [in the] top 15 in the high school rodeo association. I really love barrel racing, and I love the roping,” Kaeppel said.
Kaeppel said that in breakaway roping, the rope is attached by a thin string to the saddle.
“When you rope the calf, it breaks the string off your saddle horn. When the flagger in the arena sees the flag on the end of your rope in the air, he drops his flag, and that signals that your time stops,” she said.
She also participates in the Arkansas Teenage Rodeo Association in the spring and summer.
What caught her attention in the high school rodeo was the queen competition.
“I thought, ‘How cool are their dresses?’” she said.
Miss Arkansas Rodeo Queen candidates compete in speech, horsemanship and interviews. Kaeppel said she competed twice in high school and didn’t win the title, although she was runner-up last year.
“I probably have had about eight or nine titles before,” she said.
Two of the first titles were 4-H Rodeo Queen and Miss Rodeo Old Fort Days in Fort Smith.
Most recently, she was crowned Miss Will Rogers Stampede in Oklahoma and Crossett Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo Queen.
“I just decided that I really, really wanted to do it, so I tried out again and ended up winning it,” she said.
This time, Kaeppel said, she studied more for the interview.
“You have to know a lot of in-depth information about pro rodeo and horses and current events — it’s current events, period. They can you ask you anything they want. I had studied before, but I don’t think I was nearly as prepared,” she said.
“They ask a lot of, ‘Who are the current champions? Do you know who the clown was at Cheyenne Frontier Days?’ He’s actually from Arkansas,” Kaeppel said.
The three-day competition took place in August at Back Achers Ranch in Conway and the Faulkner County Natural Resource Center, where the fashion show was held.
“It was fun. It’s always about your really pretty dresses, and your speeches and that type of thing,” she said.
“I have a wonderful court,” Kaeppel said.
Also crowned in August were Caitlin Jacobs of Little Rock, Teen Miss Rodeo Arkansas; Mattison Gafner of Vilonia, Junior Miss Rodeo Arkansas; and Kayley Kennemer of Mayflower, Miss Rodeo Arkansas Princess.
Kaeppel’s coronation, a fundraiser to help pay for her year of travel, was scheduled Saturday at Antioch Baptist Church in Conway.
She said she will travel throughout the country, including Oklahoma and Mississippi.
“I get to pretty much travel around, go to different rodeos,” she said. “I just got back from Denver, Colo. I have probably at least 10 [events] lined up for the coming months.”
A horse is provided at each rodeo, Kaeppel said.
“You just jump on and go,” she said. “We run sponsor flags on them at the beginning of the event. It’s pretty much a lap around the arena. We’ll do queen runs where we run, and we’ll wave.
“Some rodeos you go out and push cows — help get livestock out of the arena.”
In December, she will go to Las Vegas to compete for Miss Rodeo America.
Kaeppel graduated in May from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway with a degree in business management.
“After this [reign], I definitely would like to work in a business atmosphere,” Kaeppel said.
She’s thinking about a job that would keep her around horses.
“I’d love to be the superintendent of Oaklawn or something like that,” she said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.