McKensey Middleton riding her horse, Sugar

McKensey Middleton as “Maggie the Aggie” atop her horse, Sugar, at a UC Davis football game (Courtesy)

Alumna to Compete for Miss Rodeo California

by | Oct 20, 2022 | Alumni Achievers, Animal Science

McKensey Middleton ’22 has spent innumerable hours building a relationship with her horse, Sugar. They’ve won numerous equestrian competitions together, with Middleton riding Sugar to win the 2015 Calaveras Saddle Queen title and the 2017 Miss Rodeo Oakdale title. She also appeared as “Maggie the Aggie” atop Sugar at UC Davis football games.

Now, Middleton and Sugar will compete for a title on the state stage. 

Next week, Middleton will harness her equine prowess to compete for the title of Miss Rodeo California 2023. The competition will be held in San Luis Obispo.

“It’s been a really long journey,” said Middleton, who hopes her education from the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences will help lead to a career in veterinarian medicine. “When I got Sugar, she was not broke at all. We couldn’t even complete a circle. It was really rough. But we worked really hard, and now she’s a great horse.”

Rodeo queen dreams

Though she’d been around horses since childhood, Middleton developed and refined her horsemanship skills competing at rodeos. Middleton said she enjoyed the camaraderie she shared with Sugar and the sense of communal accomplishment achieved through training. And like her sister, Megan, before her, Middleton discovered a love for the sport of rodeo.

“Rodeo to me displays the best type of competitiveness and camaraderie and inspired me to be a better rider,” said Middleton, who grew up in Murphys. “Aside from my rodeo queen involvement I do hope to compete in breakaway and team roping events one day.”

She was also developed an interest biology during this time.

“I loved my high school biology class but was super drawn to the subject during my time at Modesto Junior College,” said Middleton.

“Growing up within agriculture, I was actively a part of an industry that constantly interacts with life,” she added. “And then I chose the science that studies life. I think I loved biology so much because I could see it so much around me in the physical world and what I was learning at the cellular and chemical level made what is around me make more sense too.”

Life in Davis

The year Middleton transferred to UC Davis was the year the world locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, when the university returned to in-person academics last year, Middleton decided to make the most of her senior year in the College of Biological Sciences. She moved to campus and within a week she had lodged Sugar at Russell Ranch in Davis.

While at UC Davis, Middleton represented the university’s equestrian team in the reining discipline. She also filled the role of “Maggie the Aggie,” leading the UC Davis football team in the opening charge.

“That was amazing to be involved with the school and on campus that way,” said Middleton. “It’s crazy to think that the horse I couldn’t even do a circle with was just like running through the football field at UC Davis with the Aggie flag.”

Middleton studied biochemistry and molecular biology, specifically developing an interest in cellular functionality.

Though her immediate focus is currently set on the competition at the end of the month, Middleton said she hopes to eventually combine her interests in biochemistry and animal caretaking to attend the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Just being in the Davis community for that one year was amazing,” said Middleton. “I loved it.”

Looking toward the future, she added, “My goal as a veterinarian is to be named the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Veterinarian of the Year.”

And as McKensey knows, accomplishing a goal just takes time.