Books, beauty and cowboy boots
Amanda Gomez balances La Verne student life and her western upbringing.
by Erin Foltz
photography by Michael D. Martinez
Amanda Gomez listens to the upbeat music opener that marks the start of the University of La Verne produced Foothill Community News and one more time brushes back her forehead hair with her right hand. The lights are uncomfortably hot. A count down rings out: 3…2…1. She takes a breath, smiles and on cue from the student floor manager, turns to the unblinking eye of camera one and engagingly says, “Good evening, this is Foothill Community News. Thanks for joining me; I’m Amanda Gomez.” Her demeanor, her voice, her dress—a white colored jacket with green trim and matching skirt—sets her off as a consummate newscaster. Amanda is the news anchor for LVTV-3 and KWST, and she feels at home on the set. Her recent internship experience at ABC Network News, ABC-7 and Good Morning America validates her career choice.
Yet, there is a side to this 22-year-old Portland, Ore., born broadcast journalism major that she does not show off at La Verne. A significant part of her life has taken place on the back of a horse in the state where she grew up. She is a member of the Arizona Cowgirls Historical Foundation and is a former Miss Arizona High School Rodeo Queen. She began riding horses when she was 4 years old. “I’ve always loved horses,” Amanda says. “I had an interest in learning to ride so I asked my parents to take lessons. I got my first horse “Cricket,” a Sorrel Brown Quarter horse, when I was 8. I will always remember him, because he was the horse I rode for all my queen competitions. I was closer to him than any of my other horses.” She describes Cricket like a dear old friend, smiling as she recalls how he had a sweet tooth and loved to eat pancakes. As a child, she would go into his stall and talk to him like a playmate.
Her mother Patricia Gomez recalls the first time she brought the then 4-year-old Amanda to an equestrian riding lesson. “It became apparent that there was something special there. Amanda had no fear; she was walking underneath the horse, touching and talking to it; she was instantly so enamored,” Patricia says. “At a young age, she was the catalyst for our family adopting a country western lifestyle. When she wanted to start riding and wanted a horse, that was the start of our journey. I grew up on a turkey ranch myself in California; my grandfather raised and broke horses as well, and my husband has western heritage and roots with members of his family who own a ranch in New Mexico, so it almost seems full circle that Amanda developed these interests.”
When Amanda was 8 years old, she won her first rodeo queen competition, Miss Little Bit Rodeo. In time, she also held the titles of Miss Pre Teen Country Western USA, Sr. Princess Gilbert Rodeo Days Queen, and in 2006 Miss Arizona High School Rodeo Queen, where she was a representative for the state of Arizona and went on to compete at the National High School Rodeo Queen competition.
“When I was a junior in high school, I competed in Gillette, Wyoming, for National High School Rodeo Queen. There were representatives from 40 states and Canada. During the 10-day competition, I won the Horsemanship Award, which is one of my most coveted awards. I won the competition on a horse I had rented for the competition and with which I had just a few days to get acquainted. That was my most memorable experience throughout my rodeo queen days,” Amanda says.
Rodeo barrel racing competitions
She was a competitive 4H Club barrel racer while in middle school; In high school, she earned distinction in school barrel races. Barrel racing is a rodeo event where a horse and rider attempt to complete a clover-leaf pattern around pre-set barrels with the fastest time. It combines the horse’s athletic ability and the rider’s horsemanship skills as they maneuver around three barrels placed in a triangle in the arena center. “My most unforgettable experience as a barrel racer was when I performed at the Queen Creek Arizona Rodeo. I remember every turn being sharp, and I didn’t knock down any of the barrels. I also achieved one of my best times ever in a barrel racing competition that day,” she says.
Amanda likens the help of her family to a NASCAR pit crew. As they supported her through all her pageants, she became more involved in the western lifestyle, and her parents did so as well. “My parents were such a support system and source of encouragement when I was growing up. My mom would put rollers in my hair and make sure that I was always dressed perfectly for the competitions. My dad traveled all over Arizona with me, and always helped saddle my horse and cleaned up the horse poop,” smiles Amanda.
Her parents agree that she definitely created a country western feel to their lifestyle. Her mother, a retired Horizon Airlines pilot and now part-time professional photographer, and her father Rick, an airline pilot flying international routes with United, attribute this change to the interests Amanda cultivated growing up.
“With Amanda being interested in horses, pageants and rodeos, it was definitely a new journey for us as a family. Not only was it really exciting and fun but an educational experience as well,” her mothers says. “As Amanda developed a strong relationship with her horse, it gave me an opportunity to teach her the responsibility of when you commit to something, you follow through with it. I believe it helped to make her be the best that she can be.”
Amanda’s mother became involved with The Cowgirls Historical Foundation during Amanda’s rodeo pageant days. Since, she has become the organization’s president. “My mother is a huge part of where CHF is as an organization today, and how it has grown in the last few years,” Amanda says. “She firmly believes in what it stands for, which is the preservation of the western lifestyle, and is actively involved in the charity work. She gets the word out about our events and has helped transform CHF into the nonprofit that it is today.” Amanda, herself a CHF member since its 2005 start, says the organization has a country western ambassador charge, with a group focus on increasing public awareness, appreciation, and preservation of America’s western heritage and equestrian lifestyle. The women participate in parades, rodeos, charity events, fashion shows and public speaking events. “I am able to do much community service and fundraising for good causes. It is also very important for me to educate other people, young or old, about western lifestyles and the ‘Wild West,’” Amanda says.
“I believe that CHF is a very positive organization for young women,” adds Patricia.“It helps to empower them, improves upon their life skills and is a great way for young people to get out and get involved in the community. The girls interact with people in the community, which helps them to become better conversationalists and to learn social skills.” CHF charity involvement includes the Veterans Medical Research Council, Returning Warriors Fund and the March of Dimes. The organization performs special fundraisers such as Valentines for Veterans.
CHF members wear expensive vintage country western outfits from Hollywood’s western golden age for parades and fundraisers. “We wear rhinestone studded vintage outfits that are really beautiful works of art—collectibles—that should be in museums actually,” says Amanda. “My favorite vintage outfit is my gray riding skirt outfit with matching jacket. It has light-pink roses and greenery embroidered down the front of the jacket and down the front of the riding skirt. It is covered in rhinestones and comes with gray boots to match. I feel so special wearing this outfit because it is helping preserve western culture.”
Rose Parade rides
For CHF members, the Pasadena Rose Parade ride is now an annual event. Amanda herself has ridden in the parade three times: 2007 to 2009. Dressed in their rhinestone cowgirl costumes, the women decorate their horses with silver saddles and put red roses in their manes. “Riding in the Rose Parade is an indescribable experience I will never forget,” Amanda says. “We have to be on the freeway at the staging area at 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. We are on our horses at 5 a.m. for the 8 a.m. parade start, so there is a bit of waiting involved. We ride our horses in a serpentine pattern for the five miles of the Parade route. It usually takes about two hours and requires a lot of smiling and waving.” Along with the Parade comes participation in the Equestrian Fest at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. There, equestrian Parade participants perform horseback choreographed drills. The CHF team rides to music and waves bright colored ribbons to add to the excitement. Following, the women sign autographs, take pictures and meet with children and fans who are intrigued by them and their beautiful horses. “Our group loves speed and going fast, so our performances are very fast paced and energetic. It’s really exciting to pump up the audience and get them involved in our presentation,” she says. Excitement brimmed recently when the CHF women learned that their organization will now be sponsored by Rural Free Delivery TV, a country western television channel.
Plans for the future
Since moving to California in 2006 to become a ULV student, Amanda does not always have the time available to devote to CHF and her rodeo lifestyle. “I will always try to be a part of the Cowgirls Historical Foundation forever. I want to include an equestrian lifestyle and horses in my life, but my passion for news and journalism, and my professional goal of being a reporter or a producer brought me to La Verne; I love being here as well.” She aspires to enter the world of broadcast journalism and is excited about the possibilities. “I want to start out as an entry level reporter at a small station, take what I have learned as a student at La Verne, and test things out to see whether I go into producing or possibly become an anchorwoman.” Her family is also excited for her future and her career direction. “My main hope for Amanda, and for all my three children, is that they be the best they can be, be successful at it and have a passion for what they decide to do. If Amanda’s career path leads her into the realm of broadcast journalism, I have all confidence she will have a really successful career,” her mother says.
Amanda will always look back fondly on the time she spent as a rodeo queen, as well as considering membership in CHF as one of the most important experiences of her life. “Being a part of CHF has taught me so much. This group has changed me as a person. It has taught me to speak to people, has shaped my morals and values and made me strive to be a role model. It has taught me that in life, whether it be actual or theoretical, if you fall off your horse, always get back on and ‘cowgirl up.’ Perseverance and confidence are key cowgirl attributes.”