July 17th, 2024

Four competitors vying to become Stampede royalty; queen announced during rodeo

By ANNA SMITH Local Journalism Initiative on July 11, 2024.

From left to right, back to front: Queen contestants Charlatan Sanford, Charlie Christie, Mariah Breneman and Caitlin Watson pose for a portrait with Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede Princess and Queen Caitlyn O'Connor and Emma Atkinson outside the Stampede Office. News Photo: Anna Smith.


Stampede Week is just around the corner and all eyes have turned to this year’s contestants as they take on the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede Queen Competition.

Four competitors are striving for the two titles over the next several days; Mariah Breneman, Charlie Christie, Charlatan Sandford and Caitlin Watson.

While all four agreed that it felt like everything has been moving fast, they also agreed that they have already built lasting friendships. Regardless of the outcome, they are all grateful to have gotten to know each other and grow throughout their time as contestants.

All of the contestants expressed varying levels of nerves regarding the upcoming competition, which will consist of the Horsemanship Competition tonight at 7pm, the Speech Night on Friday, and finally the fashion show on Saturday afternoon.

Over the course of the competition, the four women will also be judged on their personality, all in the name of helping to pick the best possible Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede Rodeo Queen and Princess for the next year.

Each competitor has unique reasons for seeking the title, Christie, for her part, is looking to follow in her family footsteps.

“My great grandma was the Calgary Stampede Lady in Waiting in 1948, and then my cousin was the Calgary Stampede Queen in 1998, exactly 50 years later,” said Christie. She explained that she wanted to prove to herself that she could do this, and become a role model for her community.

For Sandford, this has been a lifelong dream. She explained that she, “was that little girl in the pink cowboy boots with my pink cowgirl hat. I thought with my true love for horses, and my very extroverted personality, that I wanted to run and be an ambassador, and help little girls for this generation fall in love with rodeo like I did.”

Breneman confided to the media that she likely has a stack under her bed of autographs from Queens and Princesses past, and she hopes to be an inspiration for young girls the way they’ve been for her growing up.

“I want to help my community and be a role model for little girls the way they were for me,” said Breneman. “Every year, I would go to the stampede and I would go to the Pioneer Village and I would see the Princess and Queen. I want to be able to do that, and put smiles on everyone’s faces like that.”

Watson, for whom this isn’t her first time competing for the crown, said that she wants to serve as an inspiration for girls who break the mould.

“I work with kids all over. A lot of them, they’re bigger, or they look different, and they think they can’t do it,” said Watson. “They can feel like they can’t do anything because people have told them they aren’t pretty, or too big, and that means they can’t do it. And to just show them that they can achieve anything.”

The beginning of a new reign is also the end of an old one, and current royalty Emma Atkinson and Caitlyn O’Connor are slightly emotional looking back on their year.

“It’s really setting in now that we’re here today. I remember last year at this time, what it felt like walking into my first day of competition,” said Atkinson. “When I started, I wanted a lot of self discovery, self growth. And I feel that I really found that throughout my year. And I am now embodying qualities that I had wished for myself, they come naturally now. I’m very excited for the girls to take over and continue on with all of the things that we’ve done in our year.”

O’Connor echoed the sentiment, and though she did express some sadness to be leaving the title behind, she feels she has made a close friend for life over her time as Princess, and is proud to have helped those who will follow after her with the title, whoever that may be.

The winning duo will be crowned July 26, during the Intermission of the Friday Pro Rodeo.

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