WRITTEN BY Elaine Macdonald
The Leona Valley Gymkhana Pageant was started in 2003 by Tom and Judy Brundage. The purpose of creating the event was twofold: to give young girls the opportunity to share their love for horses and to use gymkhana playdays as a venue to improve their horsemanship skills.
At the present time Leona Valley residents continue to sponsor the playdays and pageants. The Leona Valley Gymkhana Pageant board welcomes new competitors of all ages to come forward and compete in the Leona Valley gymkhanas.
Pam Ver Mass has been co-chair of the Leona Valley Gymkhana Pageant board since 2010. Presently there are eight volunteer board members.
“I love seeing the Leona Valley Gymkhana queens grow in confidence,” Ver Mass said. “They volunteer their time and promote their community. The pageant is only for girls.
“The gymkhana playdays are open to both girls and boys. If you’re old enough to sit in the saddle, then you’re old enough to participate in the games.
“We have 2-year-old children who compete in lead-line, and the oldest contestant that I am aware of is 70 years old.
“As pageant co-chair I handle most of the communication, including staying in touch with all of the parents. Our gymkhana events are family-friendly. We welcome youths, beginners and competitors of all ages. It is easy and fun to join in on our wholesome Leona Valley gymkhana games.”
Promoting the Western way of life
The pageant receives major support from individuals and businesses throughout the Antelope Valley. The residents of Leona Valley are proud of the three young ladies who represent their community.
One of the queens’ duties for community events is to present the colors of the American flag by riding their horses at a gallop. The gymkhana queens have the honor to run the flags at the beginning of each Leona Valley gymkhana.
They also present the colors of the flag at the Antelope Valley Desert Riders arena and at the Acton Rangers Gymkhana.
It is tradition for the queens to carry the flags in the Leona Valley Cherry Parade. The Miss carries the American flag, Junior Miss carries the California flag, and Little Miss, the Leona Valley Gymkhana flag.
Sixteen-year-old Sarah Nelson is the Miss Leona Valley Gymkhana Queen. Nelson will be a senior and attends Quartz Hill High School. After graduation she plans to attend graduate school, study for a doctorate of veterinary medicine, and work as an equine specialist.
According to Nelson, she has been competing in the sport of gymkhana for nine years and riding horses since she was a baby.
“My parents are very supportive of my sport. My dad lets me borrow his horse, Skip, to run the flags,” Nelson said. “Skip is very calm and works well for me. Skip is a quarter horse gelding and close to 17 hands high.
“As queens, we are proud to represent our community and promote the Western way of life. We have support from our parents and an overall good support from the residents of our community.
“In October, we step down from our volunteer duties. Before that time we have a couple more parades on the calendar, and we are running flags at several gymkhanas. I soon look forward to represent Leona Valley and compete for the Miss California Rodeo title.”
Nakayla Farkas is 12 years old and is the Junior Miss Leona Valley Gymkhana Queen. Farkas is in the seventh grade and attends Joe Walker Middle School. She has been riding horses for eight years and competing for seven.
“I enjoy riding Rocky, my 17-year-old quarter horse gelding,” Farkas said. “My mom inspired me to ride horses; I wanted to follow in her footsteps.
“I really love riding horses and competing in the games. I started taking lessons with local instructor Tonya Williams. When I grow up I would love to be a veterinarian and work with animals. My dream is to join the pro rodeo circuit.”
Hannah Ennis is 11 years old and represents Leona Valley as the Little Miss Gymkhana Queen. Ennis is in fifth grade in the Covenant Christian Home School Program. She has been riding and competing in the games for six years.
“I like riding in the gymkhana because it helps me improve my Western horsemanship,” Ennis said. “My horse, Phoebe, is an 11-year-old quarter horse mare. Phoebe also learns a lot in practice and competition. We make a good team!”
Raising funds for Nugget
Currently the three gymkhana queens are involved in raising funds for Saddle Up Therapeutic Riding Stables, a nonprofit in Palmdale, which serves physically and mentally challenged individuals. It is operated by trained and dedicated volunteers, instructors, and therapists.
The queens’ goal is to raise $1,500 by the end of September to sponsor Nugget, one of Saddle Up’s therapeutic horses.
The Leona Valley Gymkhana Pageant will select new queens in October. The age eligibility, which has been revised for this year, is 8 through 12 for Little Miss, 13 through 17 for Junior Miss, and 18 through 23 for Miss.
There are five new contestants running for the titles. Contestants should symbolize the Western way of life and promote the Leona Valley gymkhanas.
The competition consists of interviews with the judges, speeches and horsemanship. To be eligible, contestants must compete regularly at the Leona Valley Gymkhana, Antelope Valley Desert Riders or Acton Ranger’s competitions, and have participated in at least one Leona Valley Gymkhana from January through September.
The pageant event will take place at the Leona Valley Community Building, 8367 Elizabeth Lake Road, on Saturday, Oct. 4. The coronation of the new queens will take place at the center on Sunday, Oct. 5. The public is invited to attend.
For more information about the pageant and gymkhanas, contact Ver Mass at firstname.lastname@example.org or 661/609-8558 or visit lvgymkhana.org.
For more information about Saddle Up, go to http://avsaddleup.org.