The Champion Qualities of a Woodlake Rodeo Queen
Mar 25, 2020 04:48PM
By Rachel Trigueiro
All Hail the Queen
By Rachel Trigueiro
Photo courtesy of Woodlake Rodeo
Every Mother’s Day weekend for more than 65 years, “America’s Most Beautiful Rodeo Grounds” holds the community favorite, Woodlake Lions Rodeo. Dating back to 1949, families have been gathering for fun-filled weekends of professional rodeo arena action. In its primary year, Barbara Ainley was crowned the first-ever Woodlake Rodeo Queen. Raised in a world of ranchers and cowboys, Ainley was a true cowgirl. She exuded the most important parts of a rodeo queen: strength, discipline, poise and a love for her community.
Trilby Barton also grew up living the ranch life in Visalia. Not a Woodlake native, but familiar with the lifestyle, Barton was all but born on a horse. At 3 years old, her grandpa bought her first pony, and by 10 she got her very own horse, Bambi. Starting lessons at 6 years old, she grew a deep love and curiosity for the animal. By 12, Barton attended her first National Reined Cow Horse event, and “as I saw the competitors working the cattle, sliding and spinning, I pointed to the arena and said, ‘I want to do that.’”
Barton was raised riding English “because my mom wanted me to have a strong sense of balance.” However, in high school, she decided to give western a try and go for rodeo queen. “Because of boundary regulations at the Woodlake Lions Club, I was unable to run there, so instead I ran in Clovis. It was a very close race; I took second and got a lot of experience that Woodlake couldn’t offer at the time.” In college, Barton went on to win Miss Cal Poly Rodeo queen in 2001, a prestigious West Coast event.
Noticing a gap in training for her rodeos, Barton designed her senior project at Cal Poly to fit that need. She developed a project to coach girls when competing for rodeo queen titles. “There are a lot of contests out there that don’t prepare the girls. It’s a huge thing and can be really overwhelming,” Barton says. The senior project was so well received she has continued to lead workshops with Cal Poly’s contestants for the past 16 years.
After graduating, Barton moved back to Visalia in 2004, when Audra (Ainley) Wyngarden, granddaughter of the first Woodlake rodeo queen, ran for rodeo queen. Unlike Barton, Wyngarden had experience with western riding, but also had no experience in the rodeo world. She grew up gathering cattle with her dad and was a trained equestrian. “My grandpa called me the night before the deadline and said I should apply for the rodeo, so I did, even though I was heavily involved in school,” Wyngarden says. “After talking to Trilby, I realized how grossly unprepared I was for this contest.”
Barton worked with Wyngarden over only a few short months. “I basically put her through rodeo queen boot camp. Since she didn’t have rodeo background, no one thought she could make it.”
Instead of a rodeo horse, Wyngarden rode Barton’s reined cow show horse for the contest. “She had to learn all the rodeo rules, horsemanship, how to ride my horse who was a really tough horse to ride, plus the queen salute, modeling and so much more. She also wore some of my old rodeo queen outfits because back then we were still in the puffy-sleeve era,” Barton laughs.
As the underdog, Ainley stunned everyone when she clutched the win. “She ended up winning and everyone was amazed. She knew her stuff,” Barton says. “After that, the committee came and asked if I’d do my workshop every year in Woodlake. Everything I learned through my Clovis rodeo, plus all the work from my senior project came full circle. I got to bring it all back to help build up the Woodlake rodeo.”
Remembering her win 55 years after her grandmother’s, Wyngarden remarks, “I was not your primary pageant contestant. I wanted to drop out but now my last name was on the line.”
She was relieved when she didn’t shame the family name. “Actually, I don’t associate shame with not winning, but rather your effort – or lack thereof. Maybe it’s because I come from a long line of coaches, but you only feel regret when you don’t give it your all. My grandpa has always encouraged his kids, grandkids and students to ‘leave it all on the field.’ To keep the legacy going was a relief, but winning was a testament to the hours of training and work that Trilby and I put into the competition.”
Frank Ainley, Wyngarden’s grandfather and a well-known name in the community, was always a huge part of the Woodlake rodeo. “He is still a very big part of the community,” Barton says. “He’s like the legend around those parts. He was not only involved in the rodeo but also coached most of the boys in football.”
The rodeo culture is a family. Known for its sportsmanship and hard work, everyone cheers each other on, even the biggest competitors. “A lot of the cowboys ride each other’s horses; there’s a lot of camaraderie and respect.” Priding itself on tradition and class, the rodeo is patriotic and family-oriented. “You won’t ever go to a rodeo where it doesn’t begin with a prayer and the National Anthem.”
As with any good underdog story, Barton and Wyngarden prove that with hard work, discipline and faith, overcoming all odds and leaving it all on the field is the true win.”
Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), event information may be out of date. Confirm details with event organizers.
67th Annual Woodlake Lions Rodeo
May 9-10; gates open at 11am, rodeo performances at 1:30pm
Woodlake Lions Rodeo Grounds
Tickets $15 each at www.woodlakelionsclub.com or at the gate