By Laurelle Walsh
“People may see me all dressed up in glitter in the parade or at the rodeo, but underneath it all I’m really a tomboy at heart,” says Methow Valley Rodeo’s 2014 Rodeo Queen, Mckenna Risley.
The 19-year-old cleans up pretty well, her friends and family noted when she and her horse gussied up for the recent Winthrop ‘49er Days parade, but she’d really rather be out getting dirty, Risley says.
Her quarter horse, Sallie Mae, seems to agree with her about getting dressed up for appearances. “She didn’t really like the sparkles. I’m pretty sure she rolled as soon as she got home from the parade,” Risley says, laughing. “She’s like me. I think that’s why we get along so well.”
Risley, who has been on horseback since she was a little girl, says, “horses have really been the focus of my life.”
She spent most of her childhood in Moncks Corner, S.C., where she competed in English-style riding and won Grand Champion in her division.
Risley and her family moved back to the Methow Valley when she was 13 years old, and she realized that she’d have to get up to speed in Western riding pretty fast if she was going to continue to compete.
She was in the 7th grade, riding an inexperienced 5-year-old when she barrel raced for the first time. “I got bucked off in front of everyone at the Methow Valley Rodeo, when I tried barrel racing that first year,” Risley admits.
Undaunted, she kept trying, changing horses several times over the years until she met up with Sallie Mae in Omak last fall. “She’s awesome; she takes care of me,” says Risley. The Methow Valley Rodeo queen plans to barrel race Sallie Mae at every rodeo she attends this summer.
Risley, a 2013 Independent Learning Center graduate, says, “school really wasn’t my thing.” After graduation, still focused on horses, she worked as a wrangler for outfitters Debbie and John Schrock at Sun Mountain, where she took care of horses and led breakfast and dinner rides.
This summer she’s waiting tables at Logan’s Steakhouse in Twisp, and will fit in rodeos and help out at Sun Mountain when her schedule allows, she says.
The Risleys are an old Methow Valley family who ran the livery in Twisp in the early 20th century. Her father, Rob Risley, was born and raised in the Methow; her mother, Sue Briggs Risley, grew up in Auburn, Wash.
This year was Risley’s second tryout to be Methow Valley Rodeo queen, and she says “I’m really glad I kept trying.”
“I’m really impressed by the way the Methow Valley Rodeo offers lots of opportunities for smaller kids to participate,” says Risley, herself no longer a kid, but perhaps, when she’s on the back of Sallie Mae, still a youngster at heart.