By Nick Enquist
PHOENIX, Ariz. — The 2019 Miss Rodeo Arizona Pageant in August was a nerve-wracking time for 17-year-old Shai Forman, who was competing for the 2019-2020 Miss Teen Rodeo Arizona title.
“The entire pageant was actually neck and neck between all four contestants, including myself; no one was truly sure who was going to be crowned,” Forman said.
But at the end of the pageant, Forman lassoed home the win. She is now one of only a handful of Jewish rodeo queens.
Forman was overjoyed and credited the victory to the support of her family and friends. She also won in the appearance, personality and horsemanship categories, finishing first in three out of eight available categories in addition to the overall win.
To prepare, Forman studied and worked with her pageant coach and rode horses every day in the months prior to the competition. “Even though I missed my summer break studying every day instead of being with my friends, it was totally worth it in the end and I am forever grateful to represent the Grand Canyon State.”
Forman’s father, Marc, said that the pageant was stressful for him, too.
“They actually had all the contestants sequestered from the parents, so there were only a few times we could actually talked to Shai,” Marc said. “We had seen her do a few things that we wanted to call out a few times. Sometimes as a parent you just want to jump in and help, but we couldn’t interject ourselves.”
As they were going through who won each category, Marc said the anticipation was almost too much to handle. Forman’s friends and family in attendance were screaming with excitement when she was finally declared the pageant winner.
Forman was given the victor’s prize — a hat and chaps with “Miss Teen Rodeo Arizona” featured prominently — from the 2018-2019 Miss Teen Rodeo Arizona, Mary Norton.
The town of Payson boasts that its annual rodeo is actually the world’s oldest continuous rodeo, having run unabated for over 130 years.
The yearly state rodeo pageant was formally created in 1983. Before that there was no specific Miss Rodeo Arizona pageant, but a queen was crowned at the now defunct “Rodeo of Rodeos” event. While the Payson rodeo has hosted the pageant for the last three years, the competition has previously been conducted at different rodeos throughout Arizona.
A resident of Prescott, Forman had her bat mitzvah at nearby Temple B’rith Shalom. She thanks her mother, Angie, for developing her love of all things equine. Forman’s mother grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, and her father, Marc, also had a long-time love of horses.
Because Forman’s family owned horses they were able to provide the ultimate horse-riding childhood. Growing up, Forman practiced various rodeo styles including barrel racing, where a horse and rider attempt to complete a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time.
“There are photos of me on horses — with my mom by my side, of course — before I was even walking, so I was definitely destined to become an equestrian,” Forman said. “As of now, we have three-and-a-half horses: one is my mom’s and the other two are Charlie, my rodeo-queen horse, and my barrel-racing horse, Star.” The extra half of horse is Forman’s pony, Ladybug.
Though rodeo is only one of many different horse-riding styles, it’s the style Forman is drawn to the most because of the adrenaline rush it gives her. It also helps that the rodeo community is very welcoming.
“Rodeo is a huge family of cowgirls and cowboys that all share a similar love for the sport of rodeo and western heritage,” Forman said. “It’s definitely a tradition that will last for many generations to come.”
When she’s not riding, Forman — a student at Tri-City College Prep High School — is the captain of her school’s mountain biking team. Some of her favorite things to do include baking, arts and crafts and being with her cat, Nugget.
But horses will never be too far from Forman’s mind. Her career goals after high school are to pursue a veterinarian degree and work with large animals.
And of course, the rodeo will always be in her life. She wants to hold on to her crown for a little longer and enter more rodeos.
“My future plans in the rodeo queen industry include competing for future titles such as Miss Turquoise Circuit, which makes up Arizona and New Mexico,” Forman said. “And hopefully I can take my horse with me for college rodeo.”
Nick Enquist writes for the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.