Harmony Latham may be from California, but she's no valley girl. The 2016 Miss Rodeo USA loves horses and reading and is a live wire who made people nervous at a recent photo shoot by climbing on large round hay bales.
"They told me to stop, that I would mess up my clothes," she said, adding that she kept leaping from round bale to round bale until they made her lie down to keep still.
And within just a few days of visiting Georgia, she is already saying "fixin' to" and "y'all."
The spirited blonde college senior is in Statesboro this week to promote the Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo, which will draw contestants locally as well as from all over the world this Friday and Saturday, April 15-16. The International Professional Rodeo Association event, provided by Hedrick Rodeo Company of Tennessee, will bring family entertainment including bull riding, saddle bronc riding, calf roping, barrel racing and more.
Latham, 21, has been riding horses since before she could walk, she said. At 2 weeks old, her mother rode Latham on her police horse, and by the time she was 5, she was riding competitively. In high school, she participated in rodeo, but before she started riding Western, she rode English style. Now, it's cowboy boots, hats and Western spurs - barrel racing and reining competition.
"That's where my little heart is," she said.
She has been a member of the Grand Canyon Professional Rodeo Association and the National Police Rodeo.
Now, she is involved in the world of IPRA rodeo, traveling across the country as Miss Rodeo USA, promoting rodeo and the "Western way of doing things," she said with a laugh.
Friendly and open, Latham doesn't hesitate to talk about herself and rodeo. She has been participating in beauty pageants since she was 5 and grew up to combine the hobby with riding, which led her to compete for Miss Rodeo USA.
She is a senior at Azusa Pacific University, where she is pursuing a degree in business marketing with an emphasis in biology. She postponed her education for a year to serve as Miss Rodeo USA and will graduate with her younger brother in 2017, she said.
Actually, her leave of absence will mean he graduates first, since his name comes before hers alphabetically, she joked. Both will achieve the same degree.
She loves anything outdoors. In addition to riding, she enjoys fishing, camping, hiking, snowboarding in the winter and wake boarding in the summer, she said.
"And I love to read - anything, really, but especially sappy love stories like Nicholas Sparks' books."
Her family has four horses: a palomino Haflinger pony named Titan, which she used to show as a hunter-jumper; Koda, "the Paint that ain't," a solid-colored American Paint horse she uses is rodeos; Lexie, a black-and-white American Paint horse; and LeDoux, a roping horse named after famous Western singer Chris LeDoux.
Latham's platform as a beauty queen is "Royalty Reading," which involves promoting reading to school-age children by reading to them and giving them books. As Miss Rodeo USA, however, she modified her platform to promote the importance of reading and literacy in education.
As Miss Rodeo USA, she will attend most of more than 300 rodeos across the country this year, "traveling to as many as I can," promoting rodeo and "the way we do things," she said.
School visits are a large part of the publicity and "are the highlight of my day," she said.
"And then, I get to rodeo!"
As part of the rodeos she promotes, Latham rides in the grand entry parades as well as after the events, carrying flags and wearing all her Western bling, including an impressive crown over her hat.
"There is nothing cooler than carrying the American flag" in the arena, she said.
Locally, Latham will visit area schools, the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau and Anderson's General Store this week. She also will be available for "meet and greet" visits each night before the rodeo.
Tickets are less expensive if purchased in advance at Anderson's General Store on Northside Drive East, at $12 for adults and $7 for children 6 and older, with kids younger than 6 admitted free. At the gate, tickets will be $16 for adults and $11 for children 6 and older.
Rodeo company owner Danny Hedrick said Pork Chop, the 4-foot-nothing portly clown that was so popular in the past, will return, as will his wife, Jessica Hedrick, with her Roman riding performance.
The IPRA-sanctioned rodeo draws contestants from all over the world, including many champions, but local riders are encouraged to enter as well to compete in barrel racing, steer wrestling, bull riding, team roping and more.
There will be fun events, too - a steer dressing contest, a calf scramble for children and a gold rush. There also will be a bungee jump, pony rides, Party Harbor inflatables and possibly a mechanical bull, according to Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo chairman Bill Anderson.
Food vendors including the Back Porch Grill will be on hand to offer everything from burgers to boiled peanuts, and others such as Sadie's Hats will sell Western attire, accessories and other fun souvenirs, he said.
Both Hedrick Rodeo Company and the Statesboro Kiwanis Club pride themselves in providing quality family entertainment where "you don't have to worry about what kids see and hear," Hedrick said.
"I don't care what age you are, you're going to find something you enjoy," he said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.