FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) — Rodeo royalty politely says “excuse me” while maneuvering around the Minnesota State Fair.
Rodeo royalty represents the best of rural Minnesota with witty – and yet practical – slogans.
“We like to say you can fix anything with a little twine and duct tape,” she said of her hometown Pine River, a town of 900 people located just north of Brainerd.
Minnesota High School Rodeo Queen Jess Hanneken doesn’t get quite the fanfare fellow State Fair crown-wearers receive – looking at you Princess Kay of the Milky Way – and she’s just fine with it.
The high school junior simply rocks her cowgirl boots, her royalty crown cowgirl hat and focuses on being the best example of what it means to be a Minnesota cowgirl.
“My favorite part (of being Queen) is just walking around the (Warner) Coliseum and seeing the way the little girls look at me and my crown — their eyes get real big,” she said.
GALLERY: High school rodeo in action
She already competes in three events through the Minnesota High School Rodeo Association, but won the title of state rodeo queen by wowing the judges with her personality, modeling, a prepared speech, horsemanship and overall presentation.
At the national level she placed 21st – quite the feat considering she’d never gone near a pageant before 2013.
“Some of the girls at nationals … they’d been in so many beauty pageants, and that’s their life,” she said. “Some don’t do any rodeo events, like I do. I just love the rodeo … looking into the audience and seeing them be so enthusiastic.”
Alongside her cousin Josh Cronquist, Hanneken also went to nationals this year, but this time for team roping. Hanneken also competes in barrel racing and breakaway roping.
In addition to being a walking representation of Minnesota rodeo on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the State Fair, she also stars in another poster girl role at Warner Coliseum.
“I help with the national anthem each day,” she said. “I carry the flag in on my horse and make laps during it.”
Talk about classic Americana.
Though her family has seven horses at home, it’s the back story of Minnie, her No. 1 equine, that’s unparalleled.
Minnie was born a bit premature at a South Dakota ranch, and the rancher planned to give the horse away to anyone who wrote the best letter, describing why they deserved to live out every little girl’s dream.
Some 60 letters later, Hanneken’s heartfelt plea for the horse ended up atop the heap at the young age of 8.
Oh, and Minnie arrived on Christmas.
Rodeo royalty put it best: “It’s like a Disney movie.”