Looking back on the year, 2015-2016 Delta County Fair & Rodeo Queen Rachel Huerkamp said that while being ambassador for Delta County and the fair was challenging, she is grateful for the opportunity.
Huerkamp is the daughter of Peggy and Dave Huerkamp of Delta. Her parents met at a dude ranch 26 years ago, and four months later were married, said Rachel. Her parents, she said, both had strong influences on her life and faith and "have been beyond supportive."
She inherited her love of horses from her mom, who grew up in a horse family that has been involved with barrel racing for more than 40 years. Rachel started riding at age 3 on her pony, Cricket. At age 4 she won her first Little Britches Rodeo all-around title. While all the events were fun, she especially loved barrel racing and eventually dropped the other events.
Over the years she has competed in the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association, Colorado West Barrel Racing Association, and National Barrel Horse Association, as well as some of the super shows and in Down N Dirty Barrel Racing. She holds two state barrel racing championships and several district titles.
Because of her mom's expertise, "I've always had wonderful horses," she said.
She was also a three-sport athlete at Delta High School, competing in softball, basketball and track.
While she's competed in countless rodeos, Rachel said she didn't even know how royalty was chosen. She talked with royalty organizer Teresa Burns about what it involved, and after hearing how much time and dedication the title requires, she decided to give it a try. "It sounded like a good opportunity to promote the Delta County Fair," she said.
She memorized her entire speech for the speech competition and had a really good horse that she'd won two state championships with, and she was selected.
Shortly after the competition she attended the Colorado Fairs and Show Convention Queen Workshop and Western Slope Rodeo Royalty Clinic, where she met Miss Rodeo Colorado and learned all of her responsibilities as a county fair rodeo queen. They taught her how tp dress and fix her hair, the proper way to stand, mount and dismount her horse, how to help others have respect for the sport of rodeo, and even how to answer the tough questions. And of course they taught her "The Wave."
"It really laid the foundation for the year," said Huerkamp.
Among her royal duties she rode with Princess Kaitlyn Sharpe and Junior Princess Jessie Stillings in all the local parades, including the Ouray and Montrose county fairs, and represented Delta County at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver. That was a big highlight, she said. "I'd never been there." Now she's planning to compete there.
While the big events were amazing, some of the more memorable events were actually the smaller ones, she said. She, Sharpe and Stillings held a "Bean Auction" at the senior care center where her mom used to work. "They really loved it," she said. When she went back by herself to visit, the residents all were happy to see her and asked where her princesses were.
Events involving kids were also highlights, and she loved promoting the fair to them. Being a role model for the kids was also humbling, she said. "I'm always trying to do better and be better, but to these kids I was the best. They looked up to me like I was the queen of the world."
There were many long days, she said, and often she had to give up something she loved in order to fulfill her duties, including foregoing her senior year on the Panthers' basketball team.
The entire year was a learning experience, she said. "It was humbling because I didn't realize how much work it was going to be." And there were stressful moments, especially when people asked confrontational questions about things like rodeos and animal cruelty. "It was hard to realize that people look at you for the answers to the tough questions."
Despite all the hard work, long days and sacrifice, "I'm definitely glad that I did it," she said.
Rodeo will remain part of her life. Huerkamp will compete in barrel racing for Colorado Mesa University Club Rodeo on a rodeo scholarship. Her CMU coach, Kevin Bates, is already encouraging her to try other events again, like roping or goat tying. "I really need to expand my horizons," she said.
She also received a full academic scholarship to CMU, fulfilling a promise she made to her parents when she was a freshman that they wouldn't have to pay for her college. She leaves for CMU to participate in the Freshman Year Initiative program the day after the fair ends. The program will give her a week to settle in and get to know her classmates before classes begin on Aug. 22.
Huerkamp said she has a lot of people to thank, including from her uncle, Tom Huerkamp, her only relative in the area outside of her parents. ""He gave me a lot of confidence," she said. "He's taught me so many lessons."
She's also grateful to Sharpe and Stillings, and to Sharpe's family, who loaned her a horse after her horse was injured and "went down the road" to another owner.
She's also grateful to former junior princess and princess Morgan Dillingham, who gave her lots of good pointers. She also thanked Burns and Angel Sharpe, Kaitlyn's mother, who recently took over the fair royalty program, and friend Saul Sanchez for all of their help and support.
But most of the credit goes to her mom. "She's taught me so well and always supported me," said Huerkamp.
While tradition calls for the crown to be passed on to a successor by the reigning queen, "Sadly, there were no queen candidates this year," she said. The girls who did want to try out were too young and have to wait another year. But there will be a princess and junior princess. At the tryouts, which include demonstrating of skills like saddling and unsaddling their horse, good posture, carrying a flag while riding, being interviewed, and taking a written test, candidates asked her about her experiences and for advice on things. Among their questions was how to give a good speech.
Coronation of this year's royalty will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, in the main arena of the Delta County Fairgrounds in Hotchkiss.