Kennadee Riggs was home from her Latter Day Saint mission and began to engage in work, education and other endeavors when she felt a divine inspiration to go in a particular direction.
The 22-year-old cowboy from Queen Creek, Arizona, felt inspired to enter the Miss Rodeo Arizona pageant.
“Heavenly Father touched my heart enough times to know that He wanted me to try out for Miss Rodeo Arizona,” she said. “I didn’t know if I could win because unlike a lot of other girls, I hadn’t been chasing pageants – that would be my first. I didn’t know how it would go over but I knew Heavenly Father wanted me to try.”
Much to her surprise, she won.
Little did Riggs know how her pivotal decision would lead to more opportunities, experiences and friendships.
Riggs was crowned Miss Rodeo America 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada, on December 4
She described the feeling of winning the national pageant in a way that was familiar to many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“It was very similar to my experience on mission calls,” she said. “When my name was called, that was the greatest testimony to me that this was the will of the Heavenly Father, that I did not win by chance alone. I knew it was because of my prayers. That’s the biggest feeling I got when they called my name – thanks – for another missionary experience that I was really hoping and praying for.”
A proud legacy
Riggs has always had an interest in rodeo, horses and the western world, mostly because it’s in his DNA.
Ranching has been a part of her family for several generations. The women of the family have also been riding horses in rodeos and parades for 120 years. Her great-grandmother was a rodeo queen in 1950 and many of the women in the family have followed in her footsteps.
“It’s special for me to do this not only because I love it, but because it feels like a piece of my heritage and my history,” she said. “Because my cow blood goes back, I have always wanted to contribute to this industry in some way, some way, shape or form. Growing up in the Church taught me how important it is to use our gifts and talents for the good of our communities.”
Missions, COVID and unexpected blessings
Riggs was raised in a pious St. Lattery home. When she was 16, her father took her and her brother to Recife, Brazil, where they visited places he attended and met people he taught.
A few years later when Riggs felt a desire to serve a mission, she was willing to serve anywhere, but he secretly prayed that the Lord would send her to Brazil. He did, and she was called to the Brazil Belém Mission.
“That was one of the biggest testimonials for me that I will never forget,” she said. “Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers.”
Unfortunately, Riggs’ time in Brazil was cut short. Halfway through her service she was sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was eventually reassigned to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Riggs was initially upset about returning home but later realized it was a precious blessing. Before her reassignment, she was able to spend time with four family members – three grandparents and an uncle – who died while she was serving in Oklahoma.
“At first I didn’t understand the timing,” she said. “I didn’t realize how precious that time would be because I got to make memories with all four of that family. That was probably one of the biggest challenges … but in the end it was one of the most sacred experiences.”
Another highlight of Riggs’ mission came as she waited to be reassigned. A long time friend started asking questions about the Church. She cooperated with the local full-time missionaries to teach him and see him baptized before leaving for Oklahoma.
Miss Rodeo Contests
Like the Miss America pageant, Miss Rodeo contestants compete through interview, public speaking, appearance and personality categories. Does not include swimsuit or talent parts. The girls take a written exam and sit a rider interview to test their knowledge of equine science and the rules and regulations of rodeo history. They are also asked to mount an unfamiliar horse and ride a pattern for the judges.
Riggs said the lessons, habits and skills gained as missionaries – from “Preach My Gospel” to connecting with strangers and more – benefited her as she competed in Miss Rodeo Arizona and Miss Rodeo America.
During the Miss Rodeo Arizona pageant, Riggs and others were given a topic and had 10 minutes to prepare and deliver a speech. She doesn’t remember her prompt, but she made a list of bullet points and prayed for Heavenly Father to “fill my mouth with the words He wanted me to speak.”
As she spoke, these words from President Russell M. Nelson came to her mind and she shared them: “We feel little joy in the circumstances of our lives and everything related to the focus of our lives” (“Joy and Spiritual Survival,” October 2016).
“Heavenly Father absolutely blessed me with the exact words in that moment that I needed to say … and a lot of growing experience,” she said. “The story of Nephi has been a constant theme for the past two years, ‘Not knowing beforehand what I should do’ (I Nephi 4:6).’ He trusted in the Heavenly Father and achieved everything. That’s exactly how I feel on a minus scale.”
Riggs also felt blessed by the power of prayer, scripture study and the presence of the Father in Heaven watching over her loved ones.
Each morning of the eight-day Miss Rodeo America competition, held in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo, she knelt in prayer and read scripture and a small quote from her late grandmother to help prepare herself spiritually for the day. .
“Every day something happened, whether I was asked a question or given a prompt for a speech, that I had already prepared that morning or the day before,” she said. “It was a perfect testimony to me that the heavenly Father cares about our time needs too, and even insignificant efforts in our lives, when we hand them over to Him.”
More missionary opportunities
Riggs maintained a missionary spirit as she traveled around as Miss Rodeo Arizona. She found ways to share her faith in normal, natural ways and the responses were all positive, she said.
“Even if I wouldn’t bring people to our Church, there are so many people in the rodeo world that I’ve found that love Jesus and want to have faith in something but they don’t necessarily know where to find it it,” she said. said.
Some of her most memorable missionary moments came while competing with 27 other state rodeo queens in the Miss Rodeo America competition. She wasn’t the only Latter Day Saint, there were a few others, but most didn’t know about the Church.
“Girls would ask me random questions about why I didn’t drink, why I dressed the way I did or why I would skip going to church when we were on tour,” Riggs said. “The opportunities came to me, I didn’t have to look for them. … At the very least, many girls learned something about our Church that they didn’t know before, or maybe a myth was broken.”
Riggs befriended several girls, but he was particularly successful with his first runner-up, Miss Rodeo South Dakota Adrianne Schaunaman, a member of the Lutheran faith.
Schaunaman said her best friend died earlier this year in a drunk-driving accident. Due to the loss of Riggs’ family members, the two girls were able to have some meaningful conversations about faith and belief.
Schaunaman admired the kind, respectful way Riggs shared her faith, but also her unconditional, non-judgmental way of accepting others.
“She had such an open, honest way of bringing light into the world,” Schaunaman said. “She practices her faith, she doesn’t drink, and all those different things, but to the extent that she was still with us. We were able to be a part of things together without anyone feeling left out. … I think that is the most beautiful idea that came out of all these friendships.”
When it came time to announce the winner of Miss Rodeo America, both girls were relaxed and ready to support each other, no matter the outcome.
‘Example of Jesus Christ’
Riggs is just starting out as Miss Rodeo America 2023.
In her new role, she is the official spokesperson for the sport of professional rodeo, an advocate for the western heritage way of life, and a representative of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Last year’s Miss Rodeo America was only home for about two weeks, Riggs said, and she expects to travel at least 300 days next year, attending rodeos and events across the United States. . Another blessing she is grateful for is learning to be away from home for long periods of time as a missionary.
“I will be meeting people all over the country and I hope to continue to do what I have been able to do as Miss Rodeo Arizona, promoting this heritage and lifestyle that is so special to me, ” she said. “At the same time, in everything I do, I will try to be an example of Jesus Christ as someone who loves him and show it in everything I do.”