state fair

Cassidy Shay O’Neil. Photo taken by Mariah Allen Photography.

Cassidy Shay O’Neil prefers to go by Shay. The 23-year-old was born and raised in Livingston, Mont., and she has competed in rodeo queen pageants for the past 11 years, securing her first crown in 2008.

When she was younger, O’Neil competed a little in rodeos, but a bad accident left her with an injured back, so she turned to rodeo queening as a way to stay involved.

“Rodeo is in my blood and rodeo queening allows me to advocate for the sport,” stated O’Neil.

O’Neil was crowned Miss Big Sky Pro Rodeo during last year’s Big Sky Pro Rodeo, a PRCA sanctioned rodeo held during the Montana State Fair in Great Falls. Since being crowned she has traveled all over the state making appearances at different rodeos. Her reign has also taken her to Colorado and Oklahoma.

“Being Miss Big Sky Pro Rodeo has been a great growing experience professionally,” O’Neil said.

One aspect of her title that O’Neil is most proud of is the fact she has a platform, and therefore, an opportunity to bring awareness to a cause. O’Neil wants to bring attention to suicide and suicide prevention, especially among farmers and ranchers. Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation and the highest suicide rate among agriculturalists.

O’Neil uses her rodeo queen voice to advocate for Ask in Ernest, a Montana-based organization whose sole focus is suicide awareness in rural communities. O’Neil has further advocated for suicide awareness by initiating social media campaigns using hashtags.

“I am proud to wear the suicide prevention ribbon on my rodeo queen banner,” said O’Neil.

With the 2019 Big Sky Pro Rodeo kicking off July 31, O’Neil is looking forward to four days of rodeo action and an opportunity to advocate for a sport she loves and a cause she is passionate about.

Wednesday night of the rodeo is Military Appreciation Night, sponsored by Little Athens. This night is dedicated to the men and women who have proudly served our country in the armed forces. Stockman Bank will be the sponsor of Family Night, on Thursday, Aug. 1. Benefis Sletten Cancer Institute will sponsor Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night on Friday, Aug. 2, and Saturday’s performance is sponsored by Pepsi. Performances start at 7 p.m., each night.

O’Neil will stay busy all four nights, carrying sponsor flags during the grand entries and helping out with the Mutton Bustin’, which is a crowd favorite. Additionally, O’Neil will help with the Exceptional Rodeo, a modified rodeo event for individuals with disabilities. The Exceptional Rodeo provides rodeo enthusiasts with the opportunity to learn all about the sport from the industry’s best cowboys and cowgirls. The event will be held on Thursday Aug. 1, from 9-11 a.m.

Another event that O’Neil will help out with is Cowgirl U, a workshop for ladies where they can spend time with rodeo professionals learning about the sport. This annual event provides individuals with a better understanding of rodeo while raising awareness for breast cancer. Cowgirl U will take place on Friday Aug. 2, from 4:30-6:30 p.m.

2019 will mark the 87th year for the Big Sky Pro Rodeo, which attracts some of the biggest names in the sport. O’Neil is looking forward to working side-by-side with the rodeo committee and Sankey Pro Rodeo with Robertson Bulls to provide a quality event for contestants and fans alike.

“I just want to invite everyone to this event. The Big Sky Pro Rodeo was voted the Montana Circuit Best Large Rodeo for 2018 and we were also voted runner-up for the best ground in the Montana Circuit by the WPRA,” explained O’Neil.

At the conclusion of this year’s Big Sky Pro Rodeo, O’Neil will be looking ahead to her next goal, running for Miss Rodeo Montana during the Montana Circuit Finals in January 2020. With her reign as Miss Big Sky Pro Rodeo coming to an end, O’Neil’s advice to aspiring rodeo queens is simple, “Always be teachable and be open minded to how things might be done.”

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