Ayla McDonald inspired by local experiences
Methow Valley Rodeo Queen Ayla McDonald got a special first birthday present from her grandmother, Lynn Clark: a Palomino quarter horse named Jack. The gift of a horse is a risky proposition for a 1-year-old, but the bond that McDonald and Jack have formed over the past 16 years has endured, proving Clark’s instincts correct.
“He’s my best friend,” McDonald said of the horse that Clark trained to ride with her granddaughter. McDonald and Jack have ridden together throughout her life, including the frenzy of rodeo-related events McDonald has attended in the past nine months, including the Twisp Fourth of July parade, junior rodeo barrel racing competitions, the parade of flags in the Omak Stampede and the Okanogan County Fair, among others.
For someone who doesn’t live in the Methow Valley full-time, McDonald is as local as it gets. After spending her first six years of life on St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, McDonald has spent every subsequent summer in the Methow Valley, living with Clark, who is a well-known figure in Methow Valley equestrian and horse-packing circles. McDonald has also worked in the Sun Mountain Lodge stables as a wrangler in training since she was 9 years old.
A high school junior, McDonald lives in Bellingham and attends the Running Start dual-credit program. But with Running Start’s online format, McDonald has found it possible to spend significant stints of time in the Methow Valley, extending the summer season into a four-month stay.
Although McDonald is new to rodeo royalty, she’s not new to the rodeo and riding scene in the Methow Valley. In fact, her Methow Valley experience has served as her inspiration to assume the role of rodeo queen.
“For years I’ve been seeing my best friends be queens and princesses,” McDonald said. “It inspired me to be one. I saw how beautiful they were on their horses. I wanted to do that too.”
“I’ve been going to rodeos since I was little,” McDonald continued. “I’ve known Jadyn [Mitchell, a two-time former rodeo royalty] since we were in diapers. My friendship with her has made me want to work with horses and get involved in rodeo.”
Jack travels back and forth between Bellingham and the Methow Valley with McDonald, living at Clark’s when he’s in town and on McDonald’s family’s 10 acres in Whatcom County when he’s away. McDonald said that her passion for riding cultivated an intimacy with her grandmother as well.
At the Methow Valley Rodeo, McDonald will be doing the Queen Run and performing in the Tough Enough equestrian drill team, as well as competing in barrel racing — “my favorite event,” McDonald said.
In the next few months, McDonald will be attending various rodeo events in eastern Washington, as well as competitions at west-side venues like Sedro-Woolley.
All that travel comes at a cost, especially considering the price of a gallon of gas these days. To help offset entry and travel fees, community members who wish to support McDonald can purchase raffle tickets. The winner, whose name will be drawn at random at the end of the May 29 rodeo, will win a quilt handmade by Clark. Tickets are $5 each or $20 for 5 tickets and can be purchased by calling or texting Clark at (360) 318-6258.
It’s a busy time for McDonald, but she said she is “juggling it with school okay so far.” For her recent stint as a cook on the Ride to Rendezvous event, for example, McDonald did her homework in advance, so that she could take a week off school.
When summer rolls around, McDonald can devote herself fully to wrangling, rodeo events and other activities that place her squarely where she wants to be: in the saddle.
Produced by the Methow Valley Horsemen, the Methow Valley Rodeo takes place on Saturday and Sunday (May 28-29), starting at 1 p.m. at the Rodeo Grounds on Twin Lake Road each day. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids ages 7-12, free for ages 6 and under. For more information, visit www.methowvalleyrodeo.com.