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Miss Congeniality

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Fannin becoming one of state's best cowgirls

By John Herndon

Sandra Bullock has nothing on Cassie Fannin.

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Both have been named Miss Congeniality, but chances are that one of Hollywood's best has never tied a goat.

Or barrel-raced. Or anything else involved in rodeo.

Cassie Fannin has. And loves everything about it.

Overcoming a fear of riding horses when she was 5 years old, the rising senior at Anderson County High School has become one of the Kentucky High School Rodeo Association's best performers.

And two weeks ago, she was named the associations' Miss Congeniality during the state finals at Liberty. The award was based on modeling, public speaking, an impromptu speech, a personal interview and horsemanship.

While her prepared speech centered on what she would do if she was queen for a day and some of her friends were involved with alcohol or illegal drugs -- “I would tell them to quit,” she says – it was her impromptu work that revealed what her first love really is.

“It was on the history of rodeo,” she says.

One only needs to be with the Miss Congeniality of Kentucky Rodeo for a short time to know  that she would like to make history in the sport that is in her blood.

“I always just wanted to do it,” she says.

By age 7, that fear of riding was given way to a desire to barrel race, even though her family was showing Walking Horses at Mt. Eden and Waddy.

“She began riding by herself when she was seven years old,” says Cassie's mother, Diana Drury. “She rode a kid-broke horse for about five years then she began riding more challenging horses when she was about 12 years old. I think she ran her first barrel race in Mt. Eden when she was 12.

“I was so glad she decided to change (from walking horses). For me, the barrel racing and the rodeo events are so much more exciting.”

It was really just natural for a teenager who drives a van sporting a “Cowgirl Tuff” decal. She had tried other sports, but found her heart tugging back to horses.

After all, Cassie's grandmother, Barbara Wakefield, competed in the Professional Cowgirls Rodeo Association during the late 1950's and the early 1960's and won the Y-Bar-U Rodeo Barrel Racing Series in 1960.

 Over time, pole-bending and goat-tying were added to the resume. She can guide her 5-year-old mare, Vega, to a personal best of 16.2 seconds in the barrels and 23.2 seconds in pole-bending.

“She is supposed to be a full quarter horse,” Fannin says before breaking into a smile. “I was eighth in the state in goat-tying, but the horse decided she didn't want to listen to me and almost trampled me.”

In goat-tying, competitors dismount the horse to tie a rope around three legs of a goat, a practice similar to the more well-known calf roping. “She was supposed to go right, but she went left,” Fannin says with a huge grin. “That can be so frustrating. I was having great times.”

Still goat-tying is the part of rodeo that owns Cassie's heart.

“It is mostly on you and not the horse,” she says.

She gives a quick demonstration, with quick being the operative word, taking down her practice goat, Rufus, in about five seconds. Her personal best, including the race to the goat and her dismount, is 13.2 seconds.

It is not an easy sport. “You have to ride every day,” Cassie says. “Every day!”

Yet, being together so much, the horse and rider almost become one.

“Oh, yeah,” Cassie says of Vega. “She knows when I am sad. She knows when I am mad. When I am mad, she gets a little ticked.

“She's my buddy.”

Cassie is currently working with three horses, but says with a huge smile, “It will soon be four!”

But even the best of buddies can have friction. It is no different in rodeo.

“I am competitive, but you can't always win,” says Cassie. “When (the horse) messes up on the goat, I will get an evil look on my face. You can see it in the videos.”

That is not what one would expect of Miss Congeniality, though.

“I just try to be smiling and happy,” Fannin laughs. “You just have to shake it off and move on.”

Spoken like a real Miss Congeniality.

And an intense competitor.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.