Focus: Miss Rodeo Nebraska reflects on her year

Eva Oliver of Merriman, Miss Rodeo Nebraska 2019, gets in some practice riding time at North Platte’s Wild West Arena. She’ll be fine-tuning her horsemanship skills over the next six months before December’s Miss Rodeo America contest in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Winning a statewide pageant, not to mention a national one, introduces a young woman to many new people.

And, in Eva Oliver’s case, many new horses.

The reigning Miss Rodeo Nebraska remarked on the fact while preparing Cat, an American quarter horse owned by fellow Shadbolt Cattle Co. hands Brian and Mary Rahn of Merriman, for a recent Wild West Arena practice ride for this week’s 2020 state pageant.

“I’ll be preparing for Miss Rodeo America by riding as many horses as possible,” Oliver, 21, said of the coming national pageant that will cap her year-long Nebraska reign Dec. 1-8 in Las Vegas.

But lately?

“This is the first time I’ll be riding a familiar horse,” she said.

Oliver will gallop around the arena floor many times over the coming week, including today’s 10 a.m. Miss Rodeo Nebraska horsemanship competition and the PRCA Buffalo Bill Rodeo during Nebraskaland Days.

During the rodeo’s intermission Wednesday night, she’ll attach the 2020 Miss Rodeo Nebraska Lady in Waiting crown to the cowboy hat of either Joeli Walrath, 21, of Ashton or Brooklyn Becker, 22, of Beaver City. This week’s pageant winner will formally succeed Oliver in January.

“It’s kind of hard to believe (that) a year ago, I was getting ready to compete for Miss Rodeo Nebraska,” Oliver said.

Last year’s victory in a four-candidate field gave Oliver her seventh overall rodeo queen title and first in North Platte. She took part in the Miss Teen Rodeo Nebraska contests here in 2014 and 2015, falling short both times.

Horses and ranch work have long been second nature for Oliver, a May 2018 graduate in veterinary technology from the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture at Curtis.

She’s used her degree with Hyannis Veterinary Service and plans after her reign to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sales, with an eye toward working for an animal pharmaceutical company.

But when Oliver works part-time on the Shadbolt spread near Merriman, she said, she’s involved in all the classic ranching jobs — “moving cows, calving, branding, fixing fence, moving hay.”

Oliver’s equine workouts reinforce the apples-to-apples aspect of rodeo pageants — in which every contestant must prove her horsemanship skills — as opposed to the variety of talent acts in the Miss Nebraska and Miss America competitions.

But when it comes to making public appearances, Oliver already knows something of what the newest Miss Nebraska, crowned Saturday night in North Platte, has ahead of her.

She missed the worst of the blizzards that buried the Sandhills during March’s “bomb cyclone,” she said, because she was taking part in rodeos in Houston, Grand Island and Kissimmee, Florida.

The last two events were all about “carrying flags and making appearances and talking to fans,” Oliver said. But at Rodeo Houston, she was working as a “pivot girl,” one of several women who set flags in the arena for a performance’s “grand entry” procession to weave around.

It’ll be more appearances and more unfamiliar horses after Nebraskaland Days for Oliver, who hopes to become Nebraska’s fifth Miss Rodeo America and first since 2002 when she caps her reign in Las Vegas.

But “riding horses is just second nature to me at this point,” she said.