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Meet Khalilah Smith: Michigan State's first black rodeo queen

January 17, 2019

Animal science junior Khalilah Smith is royalty in the rodeo circuit and her outstanding horsemanship has earned her the title of 2018 MSU Rodeo Queen. Her reign is monumental as well as historical. She is the first African-American to hold this title. The State News sat down with Smith to learn more about what this title means to her. 

She is currently competing in the national rodeo competition in Oklahoma City, where she could be crowned first national black rodeo queen. 

How did you become interested in riding horses and rodeo?

I got involved in riding horses when I was younger. I was diagnosed with ADHD, and for an outlet for my ADHD my mom got me into a lot of sports. ... We ended up going to a friend that she snowmobiled with saying that we could come and visit her horses, but she was five or six hours away. Another friend that she snowmobiled with said, “We’re right here in Detroit, come bring her to Detroit and see how she likes it.” So that’s where I’ve been ever since — I’ve been with horses and in my outlet.

What rodeo events do you ride in and what skills are you looking to learn?

Currently, I am a barrel racer. I enjoy barrel racing for the simple fact of the adrenaline rush that you get when you’re going around through barrels. It’s not the rush against the fastest person, sometimes it’s if you can beat your best time. I’m trying to get into roping a little bit more, simply because I’m teaching me and the horse at the same time. It’s a bit hard to teach both of us and learn at the same time, but it’s something that I’m passionate about. I want us to pick up on it and be in the same sync, which all horses and riders should be in.

What has your experience been as one of the only Black collegiate rodeo riders?

There really hasn’t been a big diversity line where people are looking at you because you’re an outsider. The experience I’ve had in rodeo so far is everyone is inclusive. If they see something you can improve on they will tell you about it. I haven’t gotten many negative comments at all.

What do you want to do with your degree, and have you always been interested in animals?

I basically want to go into veterinary medicine immediately. That is my path, to go directly into the vet school to start working with large exotic animals. I’ve always wanted to be a vet. I love animals. I was the kid that, if I found a animal outside that was injured, I’d ask my mom if I could keep it. I’ve always taken care of the sick and the people that need help.

What’s your advice to those aspiring to be in the rodeo?

Get a good trainer. Get someone who doesn’t only have money on their mind, someone who has your best interest at heart. They want to see more people to get into the sport of rodeo because it is a dying art, not only for African-Americans and people of color. The Western sport is dying off and we need to get more people into our sport.

What does being MSU Rodeo Queen mean to you?

It means that I’m able to break a barrier that someone hasn’t done in over the 50 years that the club has been together. It means the world is changing; it means I’m a part of the change and history of MSU.

Editor's note: this story has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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