Deena C. Bouknight
Scaly Mountain native Amber Welch was recently crowned Miss Rodeo North Carolina. Although the title is new for Welch, the rodeo road is not. The 24-year-old has lived and breathed the equine culture most of her life and the sport of rodeo for five years.
“I grew up wagon training with the Western North Carolina wagon train, which involves horseback riding long periods – from five miles to 20 miles a day – or driving wagons. I can drive a single horse or teams of horses. I learned to do that before I ever sat in a saddle. That’s where my passion was at an early age. My grandfather (Tom Houck) and dad (Robert Welch) did it with me.”
A few years ago, Welch got the itch to compete in equestrian rodeo sports, such as timed events involving racing a horse around a cloverleaf configuration of large metal barrels or a straight lineup of poles, as well as sorting cows and roping. “My horse is a bay quarter horse mare, ‘Babe.’ I started training with her in these events, and she is considered ‘all-around’ in terms of her abilities.”
After becoming ensconced in the rodeo scene, Welch – who also works and attends college full time – decided to further that experience by applying to the Miss Rodeo competition.
“I spent this past summer in Wyoming working on a ranch that specialized in children with learning disabilities,” she said. “And I just came home from that and decided to do it. I didn’t really tell anyone because I didn’t know how it would turn out.”
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s (PRCA) Miss Rodeo competition involves a written portion, knowledge of PRCA regulations, a question and answer segment, a speech presentation, participation in specific horsemanship events, and more, according to Welch. She competed against other “cowgirls” on the state level and won.
“I’ll be honest, I still don’t think it has registered with me,” she said. “But I’m super proud to represent Macon County as a whole … to put the area on the map for something so positive. I really would also like for kids to know that whatever they put their minds to, they can achieve. And that equestrian and rodeo sports are worth participating in.”
One of the responsibilities of Welch’s new title is representing North Carolina and the PRCA throughout the United States by making appearances and speaking at rodeos, schools, and various equestrian and livestock-oriented events and fairs.
“I will be competing in December 2022 in Las Vegas on the national level for Miss Rodeo America,” said Welch. “It will involve equine in some way and much more. I’m not completely sure what else is specifically required. But I will find out soon.”
She said the response from friends, family, and the community has been thrilling.
“I’m a small town girl, but this is exciting – just to be able to represent my area.”