In the late 90s, horse-crazy Susan Dysart Sharp fell in love with the Arabian horses of her grandparents farm. Later, when introduced to the world of rodeo, she took this love with to earn multiple Rodeo Queen titles with her Arabian horse, HAAT Maraja. Her career culminated in being crowned Miss Rodeo Kansas, 2001.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be involved with Arabian horses?
My mother is, and always has been, a huge horse lover. Our family has owned horses for as long as I can remember. My grandparents, though, were the big influencers into the Arabian world. It started with my grandfather purchasing a couple of Arabian Halter horses, and it took off from there and quickly became a hobby for my family. I remember going to the horse shows to watch our Halter horses show and then staying to watch the Performance classes after halter was over. As a young girl I, of course, had a dream of one day riding in those Performance classes.
After a fair amount of riding lessons, we purchased the first Arabian that I could call my own. His name was Bay El Saraf. He was an English Pleasure horse, and he and I had a connection that was like no other. He and I were a successful team while I showed him as a junior, but the competition got steeper in the Amateur classes. Younger horses with big trots were something that he just couldn’t hold a candle to, but we kept showing our little hearts out and having fun doing it.
It was around the age of 16 when the local Shiners in my home town approached me to ask me if I would be interested in running for their “Rodeo Queen” Pageant. They knew I rode horses so they thought I would be the ideal candidate. Little did they know that just because I rode a horse did not mean I knew anything about rodeo, so I did a little research. After finding out the details of what competing for this rodeo pageant consisted of, I felt that I would give it a shot. My next step was to find a Western horse to borrow, because no one rides an English horse in the sport of rodeo. That is when I was united with my Arabian rodeo horse, a mare by the name of HAAT Maraja.
Maraja was a Western Pleasure horse that was burned out in the show ring. She was a super smart, and very ornery, horse that had become bored of the walk, trot, lope, reverse, walk, trot, lope. Her intelligence came in handy when being asked to perform a Horsemanship pattern for the rodeo pageants. Maraja became quite the rodeo horse over the years. First thing we had to do was learn to run. That was new for both of us. She picked up on it quickly and loved it. I found myself holding her back more often than not. As a rodeo queen horse, we had to run the sponsor flags at a quick speed, and we had to run calves back after calf roping. That mare loved to herd those calves back. That was probably her favorite thing to do. I think she missed her calling as a cutting horse. But what Maraja was the most talented at was carrying the American flag. She still had that beautiful collected lope that made carrying the flag such an elegant presentation.
Maraja won multiple titles leading up to Miss Rodeo Kansas: 1996 Abdallah Shrine Rodeo Queen, 1997 Miss United Rodeo Association, 1998 Miss Beef Empire Days, 1999 Miss KVOO (radio station in Tulsa, Okla. sponsored pageant). Maraja helped me win several trophy saddles and even the horse trailer that I still haul today.
Tell us about Miss Rodeo Kansas? How was the competition run?
Miss Rodeo Kansas is a young lady, between the age of 18 and 24, that spends a year traveling and representing the sport of rodeo and the state of Kansas. There are rodeo appearances nearly every weekend during rodeo season, and during these appearances this young lady is asked to serve as a PR person of sorts for the event. She is requested to visit nearby schools, participate in radio interviews to advertise the event and sign autograph photos for children and for local businesses thanking them for sponsoring the event. The Miss Rodeo Kansas competition is judged on three main categories, horsemanship, modeling & speech.
Each lady is required to draw a horse that she has never ridden before, so I was not able to ride my mare for the competition unfortunately. This young lady is also required to prepare a speech about her state and the sport of rodeo, model Western wear, be up to date on current events (as impromptu questions will be asked in front of an audience), and she will sit down with a panel of judges during an interview process to show that she can think on her feet.
Even though my mare was not a part of the completion portion of the pageant, she was very much involved in my year traveling to rodeos. She carried more sponsorship flags and ran more calves back that year than she did in years prior. But her most important role was to carry the American flag. I will never forget the time that carrying the flag meant more to me than any other time. I was Miss Rodeo Kansas in 2001, the year of 9/11. I will never forget the first time I carried the American flag after the attack. It was at a bull riding in Lawrence, Kan. The emotion and gratitude from the crowd that night made that flag presentation one I will remember forever.
How was your Arabian received by others at rodeos?
Maraja and I got a lot of looks at the rodeos. Some turned their noses up at us, and others were just curious. People would ask me all the time if she was an Arabian, and sometimes it felt like I was being judged negatively for choosing to perform on an Arabian at the rodeos. But Maraja quickly turned a lot of heads and changed a lot of minds about the breed after the rodeo contestants could see what a great horse she was. I found it entertaining when competing in pageants with her.
The other contestants originally didn’t see me as competition when they saw me show up on my Arabian. They instantly thought I was no competition at all. But my mare, with her show background, absolutely killed it during horsemanship. She had excellent speed changes transitioning from her slow collected lope to an all-out run. It was phenomenal to watch her. I still like to go back and watch videos of her performing those patterns during pageants. This was the perfect job for her, and it showed. She handled things like a champ.
Arabians have the reputation of being spooky or flighty by most rodeo people, ironically enough at one rodeo in particular; there was a debacle that happened behind the chutes. It was Fourth of July weekend, and the rodeo committee hired a girl to carry the American flag for the event. This was no ordinary American flag as it shot sparklers out the top of the flag with the push of a button. Maraja and I did not carry that flag, but after the presentation was over a person behind the shoots relieved the young lady of the flag and in doing so, accidentally hit that button causing a bunch of sparklers to shoot out amongst me and a bunch of calf ropers on their horses. Maraja jumped slightly, turned and looked, but was level headed in her response to it. One of the cowboy’s horses, on the other hand, came unglued and the cowboy had a difficult time getting the horse under control. One thing about my mare was that I trusted her to take care of me and she did not disappoint.
What makes Arabian horses great for rodeo events?
I think the agility of Arabian horses makes them an ideal horse for rodeo. I know my mare could turn on a dime and out maneuver those calves, and I didn’t realize just how great she was at this until I had to borrow other people’s horses for this job. It was like driving a luxury sports car versus driving an oversized quarter ton truck. There were times when the rodeos provided me a horse to do my job, and it was always more comfortable to do this on my Arabian. As far as the rodeo events specifically, I didn’t see a lot of Arabians compete in the events. But I think it is definitely something that is possible. I think Arabians are fast learners and can pick up on anything if asked. I never ran barrels on my mare, but her ability to maneuver quickly and get up and go would have made her an excellent barrel horse.
Arabian horses are one of the worlds most versatile breeds, as proven by Susan and Maraja. From Main Ring showing to a successful rodeo pageant horse - Maraja demonstrated the ability of the Arabian to adapt to their riders wishes and enjoy a variety of work. Congratulations Susan for your accomplishments and for your contributions as an ambassador for the Arabian horse in Western sports.