November 2014
Homeplace & Community

Barreling Her Way to the Top

Chelsea Maness, Miss Rodeo Alabama 2014, strikes an attractive pose as part of her professional portfolio.  

Miss Rodeo Alabama dreams of  winning a national title.

Horses have been a big part of Chelsea Maness’ life and she’s using that experience to see if equestrian competition can help her achieve a dream.

If it does, it will be in Las Vegas where she will be joining dozens of other young women who will be competing for the title of Miss Rodeo America.

Unlike many of the other contestants who have been involved in rodeo events since they were little girls, Maness, 21, has only been at it the past 3 years.

Her specialty is barrel racing and she competed in numerous competitive events as a member of the Troy University Rodeo Team.

Last June, she was crowned Miss Rodeo Alabama in San Antonio, Texas, and that title enabled her to represent her home state at the national event in Nevada. It begins on Nov. 30 and continues until Dec. 7.

Maness has been around horses before she was a toddler and learned how to walk, but, as she says, "I fell in love with the sport at Troy University."

  Chelsea Maness has created quite a reputation for herself as one of Alabama’s top barrel racers.

She bypassed roping events and concentrated instead on barrel competition while her younger sister Carmen has made a name for herself as a roper at rodeo events.

Maness is willing to try just about anything when it comes to rodeos, but her only "ride" on a bull ended quickly. She became airborne shortly after the gate opened.

She said it happened 2 years ago when she hopped aboard a bull named Dallas and learned she wasn’t the boss.

"He came out of the chute, did one little hop and then I fell off," she said. "I figure I was on Dallas about half a second."

After she hit the ground, she said the bull "kinda kicked me," hurting her right hip and convincing her that she needed to keep racing around barrels.

"If I had stayed on a full second, I might have done better," she said, breaking into a smile. "But what happened that day let me know I didn’t need to do that."

Raised on a small farm in Wilcox County, Maness was introduced to horses when her parents gently lifted her aboard one of them on their farm. She was all of 9 months old. By the time she was ready for kindergarten, she already had her own horse and couldn’t wait to go for a ride every day.

Chelsea Maness, Miss Rodeo Alabama, left. and her sister Carmen have been riding horses since they were toddlers.  

Horses were more than a hobby, but when she entered high school she also found time to play volleyball and become part of a championship dance team.

Through the years, she has competed in the Alabama Open Horseman Association as well as the National Barrel Horse Association. While a member of the Troy University 25 member rodeo team, she helped the squad win two regional titles.

Since being named Miss Rodeo Alabama 2014, she has become a featured speaker at events across the state. Recently, she spoke to students at the Cathedral Christian School in Selma where she spoke about her love of horses, competing, responsibility and the importance of religion in her life.

During her appearance at the school she went over one of her essays for the students – providing clues about her subject with her first words.

"She was born on a cold day in December in 1819 and has seen and heard so many different things," she began, leading the boys and girls to the conclusion that "she" was the state of Alabama.

Maness mentioned several of Alabama’s famous sons and daughters as well as the state’s involvement in the space race, one that involved building "rockets that put men on the moon."

She also talked about a disappointing moment when she learned Troy University would no longer be supporting a rodeo team, a decision she said "was very hard for us to accept."

Life’s ups and downs can be exhilarating and frustrating at times, she told the students, adding that "prayer is the answer at all times."

Maness uses biblical passages and scriptures to illustrate important points that she makes during her speeches. She believes it’s a good way to put things in perspective.

"Don’t ever give up on your dreams," she told the students who surrounded her for autographs when she finished her talk. "I’ve tried to have a positive impact on peoples’ lives and prayer has been very important to me. It can be for you, too."

Maness told the students about her desire to compete in Miss Rodeo America as well as the challenge she faced when she told her mother that it was a goal she felt she could attain.

"She said ‘No’ several times when I tried to convince her until she finally said ‘Yes’ as long as I could find a way to pay for it," Chelsea said. "I prayed real hard and everything has turned out just fine since that time."

One of the ways she was able to handle the financial requirements of such an undertaking was to help line up sponsors to help pay the freight. At last report, she has met that responsibility.

Becoming involved with horses at an early age has been a learning experience for her "because you share a special bond with an animal."

"Horses have their own personality," she said, referring to a comment made by someone years ago that "the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man."

Her pride and joy is her horse. The mare is named for entertainer Beyonce because "she’s the biggest diva I’ve ever met."

When she arrives in Las Vegas for the national competition, she and the other contestants will have to get used to other horses since they can’t bring their own mounts to the event.

Maness is the daughter of Steve and Renee Maness and is majoring in communications and public relations as she works toward a bachelor’s degree at Troy University.

That means she’s got several balls in the air at the same time as she handles academics, rodeos and promotes Alabama’s agricultural industries as well as equestrian competition.

All that hard work has paid off now that she is Miss Rodeo Alabama 2014 and her eyes are focused on the biggest prize of all – Miss Rodeo America.

If she doesn’t win, she knows she’ll soon be back home aboard Beyonce – a four-legged diva who brightens her day every time she hops on board.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.