Two pink cowgirl boots. A pink helmet. A horse named Lulu. 

That’s all a 6-year-old Megan Sharp needed to ride around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern at a speed she had never attempted. Up until then, she had only competed in a tamer style of events called Western Pleasure, which emphasizes the slow and sophisticated side of a horse’s skills.

This was Sharp’s first barrel race, where she realized: she wanted to go fast. 

“The second that I turned that third barrel home and ran home, I told my mom that Western Pleasure was too slow for me,” Sharp said. “I wanted to do something fast.”

It was a life-changing experience for the girl who would eventually become the 2022 Poly Royal Rodeo Queen.

Maddie Harrel | Mustang News

Sharp came from a rodeo family. Horse shows laid the foundation for horsemanship early on. Gaining the trust of a horse, proper riding technique and athletic ability are characteristics that have been ingrained in Megan since she was a little girl.

“[Megan] started riding when she was old enough to sit in front of the saddle with her mom and grandma and keep her head up,” Megan’s mother, Debbie Sharp, wrote in an email to Mustang News.

With the support of her family, Megan continued to pursue rodeo and even followed in her parents’ footsteps to Cal Poly. Something that, in her mom’s words, has been a “long time coming.”

“Every time we would drive through San Luis Obispo, we would drive her through the rodeo grounds and the campus and tell her our stories over and over,” Debbie said.

When Megan found out she was Miss Cal Poly Rodeo for Poly Royal’s 80th anniversary, she felt as if a legacy was fulfilled. Megan recalled even getting into Cal Poly and joining the rodeo team to be a feat in itself, let alone winning the title of Poly Royal Rodeo Queen.

“When they said my name, it was just so rewarding that all my hard work paid off,” Megan said. 

Her mom, dad, aunt, uncle and sister all came to watch. They knew she faced tough competition, and were thrilled she came out even tougher. 

“To rodeo for Cal Poly and be Miss Cal Poly Rodeo has been a dream of Megan’s since she was a little girl,” Debbie said. 

When it comes to rodeo and pageant queens, there is a difference, despite them both having crowns and sashes. However, at the beginning of Poly Royal, there wasn’t much of a distinction. 

Queens for Poly Royal pre-1990 were chosen to be considered “trophies” of the Learn by Doing University, according to 2021 Poly Royal Rodeo Queen Maggie Usher. However, nowadays, that’s not the case. 

“I feel like rodeo queens is kind of where we differ from pageants and other competitions like that,” Usher said. “We have to know how to get our hands dirty.” 

The Poly Royal Rodeo Queen’s duties in 2022 are much more than smiling and waving, Usher said. A queen must have horsemanship, or the altogether skills of riding, training and truly caring for their horse. 

“Your body language works with their body language,” Megan said. “The athleticism of the horse is that they can go so fast and stop automatically and listen to the cues of your hands and feet.”

More specific arena duties of the Poly Royal Rodeo Queens include carrying flags of sponsors while riding and pushing cattle out that want to keep running. Not to mention, be a walking encyclopedia of rodeo rules and regulations. To become a Poly Royal Rodeo Queen, one also must go through multiple tests on poise, personality, appearance, horsemanship and knowledge of Poly Royal.

“Megan does a good job representing our program in all those traditional ways and she is also a very competitive athlete in the field,” Rodeo Coach Ben Londo said.

Megan’s competitive nature has kept her winning saddles and buckles for her achievements, according to her mom Debbie. It also helps her keep up with the ever-growing rodeo industry, which Debbie said has become much tougher since she was in college. 

“When we were competing, many kids just got by on their natural athletic ability,” Debbie said. “Now they are watching instructional videos, watching replays of their practice runs and taking it more seriously.”

The horses are also bred to be better and the kids are starting rodeo much younger. Debbie said the scene is becoming “much tougher” as the years go on.

Megan is now preparing to attend three professional rodeos this summer while representing the Cal Poly Rodeo program. 

After her reign as Poly Royal Rodeo Queen is over, she said she hopes to continue climbing the ladder at Cal Poly and make it onto the rodeo’s points team. The select group of six men and four women competes throughout the season and brings the gold to the green and gold.

“Being a part of the rodeo team is just so amazing,” Megan said. “[The new goal is] to make our points team and hopefully make nationals in my next two years of competing.” 

For now, the Cal Poly sophomore saddles up her family’s 13-year-old quarter horse, Roxy, to ride out for her first and favorite event of Poly Royal –– the carrying of the American flag.

The carrying of the flag is an honor that is only bestowed to someone who holds the title of Poly Royal Rodeo Queen. 

Now, she drapes her sparkling sash that reads “Miss Cal Poly Rodeo 2022” across her white button-down.

As Megan and Roxy waltzed over to the arena, the audience was met with a gleaming smile and a wave. Megan donned the white cowgirl hat decorated with a golden crown on the front and a pair of chaps with green and gold tassels, along with secret signatures on the inside from Poly Royal Rodeo Queens of the past. These garments are all reserved for Poly Royal Rodeo Queens only.

Of course, the real rodeo badge of honor is the belt buckle. Sharp shined her crowning glory and let everyone in the arena know her highness had arrived. 

Maddie Harrel | Mustang News

The excitement of the rodeo members swelled, as well as dust from the horses dancing around. The announcer’s Montana drawl went on, describing the members to be built with “hard work, dedication and determination.”

Finally, it was time for Megan’s favorite part. The music swelled as the announcer appealed to the audience’s patriotism:  “Look at our way of life, look at the drive that we have, look at the people that we love and the lives we live,” he said.

Sharp rode out. The American flag waved behind her, its pole tucked into her cowgirl boot. The riders and their horses lined up, the crowd rose to its feet and the national anthem started to play as the dust settled. 

It was Megan’s time to shine.