WHEN she looks back now - with parenthood and two decades of perspective - Pauline Pickering can only see positives in having once worn the coveted Warwick Rodeo Queen crown.
"I know some think beauty pageant and gasp, but in real terms the rodeo queen quest is and always has been about raising the profile of a major event and the sport," she explained. "It's also about horsemanship, poise, confidence, public speaking and being a good ambassador for our community.
"And, on a serious note, many of these are qualities which can only help young women become successful in their chosen professions later."
This year the Southern Downs accountant, who etched her mark on the Australian show jumping circuit as a young woman, sat in the judge's chair for the queen and princess quest competition.
With the same eloquence she was once noted for in the saddle, she described the skills of many of this year's contestants as "outstanding", with the calibre of horsemanship as impressive as ever.
It is high praise from someone who really knows what they are talking about.
She was 22 and an accomplished national-level showjumper when she swapped her jodhpurs for western gear to compete in the 1991 Warwick Rodeo Queen quest.
"I was from a really horsy family and I had lived in Warwick all my life so the chance to represent my hometown was definitely part of the appeal. But to be honest I had spent a childhood watching the rodeo queens gallop into the arena carrying flags and I wanted to have a crack at that."
So in 1991 she won the local rodeo queen crown and then went onto claim the horsemanship title at the Miss Rodeo Australia finals.
For those familiar with her family - and there were many who knew the Mullins Family Troupe of performing trick riders - it was hardly surprising.
After all, Pauline Dunn, as she was back then, had been riding since she was three and performing tricks on ponies with her siblings and a swag of cousins as soon as she could walk.
"Growing up I was part of the Mullins Family Troupe, which was a group of young kids from my family riding ponies and doing tricks as part of entertainment and performances at local shows and fairs, as well as the Brisbane Ekka.
"Hughie Mullins was my grandfather and he started the troupe in the mid to early 1970s.
"So from when we were two or three years old, he'd start us by having the ponies lying down and we'd have to run up and launch ourselves and vault over the pony's belly.
"We also had ponies that balanced on a specially built see-saw and others we stood up on as they galloped around.
"Grandad was retired so he spent hours and hours training these ponies each day and dreaming up new tricks for us to do.
"So we would spend some time before school and then hours each afternoon practising."
She laughingly explained her granddad's reach wasn't just limited to family. If a young local rider showed interested he often roped them in to perform too.
"I would never have developed the skills I did without Grandad. He was a tough old fellow, but he loved horses and he taught us a lot.
"But I think what made the difference was the amount of practise we did.
"Riding is like anything, the more practise you do, the better you become."
As a teenager she gave away performing with the Mullins Family Troupe.
"I think crowds started looking for other entertainment, like stunt cars, and we were all growing up and keen to try our hand at other horse sports."
She went on to star on the show jumping circuit, competing across the Darling Downs and in Brisbane, before winning the Australian under-21 title and earning a place in the national team.
From there she travelled to New Zealand, taking a horse she'd trained with her grandfather across the Tasman to represent her country.
"We were never a wealthy family, so we never had the money to buy expensive horses.
"So we bought what we could afford.
"We paid $1000 for the horse I won the Australian under-21 title on. He was off the racetrack and sold because he had some serious behavioural problems.
"But my Granddad spent so much time working and training our horses that between us we made them.
"I took out first and second place that year, with two horses we'd paid $1000 for each, and in third place was a $40,000 horse so it was a very real sense of accomplishment to do so well with a horse you had really made into something special."
Looking back, while she credits her grandfather with passing on his equine knowledge, she knows it was her parents, Tom and Maureen Dunn, who made the sacrifices so she and her siblings could ride competitively.
"We did it the hard way in terms of developing our own horses.
"And we did it tough in terms of money. Mum and Dad would have gone without so much so we could do what we did with horses."
Today Pauline is happily married to her husband, Steve, and life revolves around her career and her life with their two sons Jack, 14, and Ben, 12, but she carries the lessons from riding with her.
"I don't think it matters what discipline you are riding or what sport you are playing, but practise and more practise is vital.
"And I think you have to work hard: the harder you work, the luckier you get.
"And the flip side of it is if you work hard you can make what you dream of, happen.
"But nothing comes without persistence."
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