HANOVER COUNTY, Va. — Teens with a work a strong ethic tackle many different summer jobs. Michaela Stern has lassoed the perfect summer side hustle. Perks of her job include working closely with colleagues. The 17-year-old cares for and trains her neighbor Kelly Trobaugh’s horses six days a week.
“I think she has a way to make herself so tranquil inside,” Trobaugh said.
Trobaugh called Michaela the horse whisperer.
“Michaela is amazing,” Trobaugh said. “She is the calmest, most wonderful horse rider I have ever seen in my life.”
The oldest of eight children Michaela’s days include everything equestrian.
“Honestly, I started loving horses when I was really little,” Stern said. “They were just so big and powerful and majestic.”
From her part-time job Stern across Beaverdam to summer camp with her sisters where you guessed it, horses take center stage.
This is no trot through the park.
Endurance hauling hay and other chores is a necessity. But Stern can’t think of any place she’d rather be.
“I love being in the saddle. It is definitely the highlight of my day,” Stern said.
It is a hobby that boosts her confidence outside the arena.
“Sometimes I think if I can handle a 1,000-pound animal then having a simple conversation with someone shouldn’t be that big of a deal,” Stern said.
Billie Jo Adsit the founder of the riding camp first met Stern about seven years ago.
The professional trainer with nearly 40 years under her belt recognized immediately her student’s true talent.
“She is 100% dedicated,” Adsit said. “She gets up in the mornings and practices.”
All the training paid off.
Last month this home-schooled high school senior earned the title Queen of the Virginia High School Rodeo Association.
Mom Amanda said her daughter earned everything herself.
“Oh she is in her element yeah,” Amanda said. “I guess all of those years she had said she wanted to be a rodeo queen we just had no idea it was actually going to happen so. It is pretty special and it is a cool story.”
Zach Stern said his eldest daughter’s recent success has spurred her on to compete nationally.
“It is a lot like any other sport. Some kids play travel soccer. Travel baseball. We do rodeo,” he said. “She’ll make Virginia proud. And continue to do that for the rest of the year as she pursues her queen duties.”
Michaela Stern is representing the Commonwealth at a rodeo in Wyoming this week where she will test her skills against 40 other rhinestoned contestants.
“As a kid I would watch rodeos on TV and I would see the cowgirls and I always wanted to be like one of them especially the queens because they were so pretty,” she said.
What’s harder than riding like a queen is looking like one.
“So I had to learn how to do my makeup. I had to learn how to put on fake eyelashes. That was stressful. That was new,” she said.
Under the watchful eye of trainer Billie Jo, Michaela Stern is honing her skills in the stirrups.
“What she is doing has to be 100% on because those girls practice so much,” Adsit said.
The pressure to perform during the multi-day event mounts as the contest nears.
“(Billie Jo) is very detailed,” Stern said. “Practice makes perfect. We go over every single detail and make sure every detail is perfect before we put it together.”
This teen doesn’t regret the endless hours of training - not one bit.
“She never gives up,” Adsit said. “She’ll do it and do it until we got it right.”
Michaela Stern is a rider blossoming into rodeo royalty. With some luck and help from the judges, the Old Dominion will welcome back a new national cowgirl queen.
“There is nobody who could have done a better job representing Virginia more than Michaela," neighbor Kelly Trobaugh said.
Michaela has her own cheering section in Wyoming this weekend. Her parents, seven brothers and sisters, and Billie Jo all made the rodeo road trip out west.
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