When Ariana Piscitelli ’15 competed for the title of Miss Tillamook County Rodeo Queen, she never expected to win.
“The judges announced the second-runner up and then the first-runner up,” Piscitelli says. “When they didn’t announce my name, I knew I had won. I was just shocked.”
Since starting her reign in January, the Willamette University senior has led a hectic existence. She travels to rodeos across the Northwest. She signs autographs, and she talks with the media.
Although the workload can be daunting, Piscitelli says she’d have it no other way. If anything, her role as a rodeo queen has added excitement to her routine.
“When I run in an arena on my horse, it’s game on,” she says. “I hear my name and everything else just leaves. There’s nothing else like it.”
Piscitelli joined 4-H in elementary school. She got her first horse, Cupid, when she was 8, and she spent much of her youth riding and breeding horses alongside her mother.
Her background prepared her for her job at a Newberg veterinary clinic, where she’s worked for six years. There, she assists in surgeries, administers medications and feeds and bathes animals of all sizes.
Two years ago, Piscitelli also began breeding Golden Retrievers on her own — using the money from selling puppies to pay for college. The Ford Scholars Program funds the remainder of Piscitelli’s tuition.
“As a Ford Scholar, not only could I afford a college education, I’m able to serve as a mentor for an incoming freshman each year,” she says. “I’ve taught them how to study — something I didn’t know much about when I started at Willamette. I’ve really enjoyed doing that.”
Piscitelli vied for the title of Miss Tillamook County Rodeo Queen for two reasons. She wanted to help advocate the rodeo culture, and she hoped to improve her horsemanship skills.
“When you graduate high school, you graduate out of 4-H and can’t compete in shows anymore,” Piscitelli says. “I needed something to do with my horses, and I thought the more I took them to rodeos, the better they would get.”
Even though she lives in a neighboring county, Piscitelli was allowed to compete in the Tillamook pageant. During the three-day affair last year, she modeled a floor-length leather gown, engaged in personal interviews and answered trivia questions about horses and rodeos.
She also showed off the talents of Diva, the half Arabian, half quarter horse she bought a year ago.
“It takes a certain person to understand Diva,” Piscitelli says. “She doesn’t get along with everybody. But I click with her. I understand her. It’s almost like I know what she’s thinking.”
Up until the last day of the pageant, Piscitelli didn’t know how she ranked against her competitors. But since winning the crown, she’s relished the opportunity to promote rodeos alongside Diva and her other horse, Whiskey.
“I love the crowds, who are always cheering for you, and I love being with my horses, who are my partners in all of this,” Piscitelli says. “It’s something I really enjoy.”
As a pageant queen, Piscitelli serves as as a role model to young girls. She spends much of her summer on the road, and she regularly speaks at public forums — such as Rotary and Kiwanis meetings.
But her favorite part of the job is racing around the arena on her horse.
“You just run,” Piscitelli says. “You hear your horse’s hooves pounding against the dirt. You hear people clapping and screaming, but you don’t see them. They’re a blur. It all happens in about 20 seconds.”
Biology professor David Craig says he’s impressed by Piscitelli’s passion for rodeos and her skill in balancing her interests and pursuits.
“I think of her as connected and original, self-sufficient and kind, opinionated and curious,” Craig says. “I get the sense that she’s dreaming big but always keeps track of a solid back-up plan that includes good skills and great people.”
At Willamette, Piscitelli works for Telefund to connect with alumni, parents and friends of the university. She participates in the Animal Care and Forestry clubs when she can, and she actively seeks to forge close ties with her professors.
“The professors know your name. They talk to you, and they invite you to dinner at their house,” Piscitelli says. “They really care about you and about what they are teaching.”
Looking forward, Piscitelli wants to enjoy her last year at Willamette alongside her mentors and friends. Afterward, she plans to either attend veterinary school or find employment in the nonprofit sector.
She also hopes to continue supporting rodeos in any way she can.
“I fell in love with the rodeo life,” she says. “There isn’t anything else like it.”