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Lakeside presence at Miss Rodeo USA

2023-24 Miss Lakeside Equine Events Sophia Gillenberg is heading to the 2024 International Finals Rodeo in Guthrie, Oklahoma, competing for Miss Rodeo USA who will be crowned on Jan. 14 during the rodeo competitions. Gillenberg represents Equine Event Services that currently manages events at the Dianne Jacob Lakeside Equestrian Park, one of the first to earn this title.

Gillenberg is 21 years old, a graduate of Mission Bay High School, part of the Robotics Club, played varsity tennis being part of the team who won the school’s first league champions.

Gillenberg studies digital media art at San Jose State University in a comprehensive study of coding languages, 3D modelling, and archeology. She served as the treasurer and president of the CADRE Mentorship, involved in assisting students in adapting to college life and navigating the Digital Media Arts major. She is a member of the Shrunken Headman Club, renowned for nurturing animators who have contributed to iconic animations such as “The Incredibles,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and the heads of departments at SJSU honored her with the Fan Qui Award, recognizing her as the most promising student in the major.

Gillenberg said an interesting fact about her, while she is attending SJSU, and this semester she has been a part-time archaeologist.

“I have been working with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, extricating remains and artifacts from the 1800s,” she said. “Through my research and documentation, we have been able to further prove that the Muwekma Ohlone is no longer extinct and is still alive under the government classification. I am so thankful to partner with Stanford University on this.”

Gillenberg said her mother owns Windsor Equestrian Center in Lakeside where she helps teach lessons.

“I have been riding for my entire life since I was eight months old,” she said. “It just blossomed from there. My first rodeo was the Bulls Only Rodeo in Lakeside, and my love for rodeo just blossomed. I always wanted to be a rodeo queen because they were Disney princesses that I could relate to. And they were real. Getting the chance to represent a rodeo has always been my life goal. Being Miss Rodeo USA would not only allow me to achieve my own life’s dream, but to encourage others to follow their dreams as well.”

Gillenberg said the process during the week is extensive beginning with an introduction to get to know them and their title, going straight into a written exam where they are tested on things such as horse anatomy, equine diseases, to rodeo knowledge.

“We basically must be qualified rodeo judges so that we can explain it in layman’s terms to anyone who asks,” she said. “We also have two speeches. One is a platform speech, and the second one is a sponsor speech, given by the Miss Rodeo USA organization. We also have a horsemanship examination. The horses that we ride are draw horses. These are horses we have never seen or ridden. We get to watch them warm up, then we must ride them and complete a pattern. After that, every day during the week, we will have interviews every day, photo shoots, gala events we must attend, and runway items as well along with more questions.”

Part of Gillenberg’s platform is that she has overcome a disability. She has patellar subluxation in both her knees, where both of her kneecaps slip out of their sockets, then relocate. It is not a full dislocation but can slip out when doing certain movements.

“It does make it a little more difficult to ride,” she said. “I was told by doctors that I would never be able to ride again, but I am doing this is to prove them all wrong and to prove to myself that I can do anything that I put my mind to. I firmly believe that the only disability that someone can have is a bad attitude.”

Gillenberg has earned several Presidential Service awards from volunteering in the Lakeside community.

“I love my community with all my heart, and it is my goal to be Miss Rodeo USA and to be able to promote Lakeside so that everyone knows where we are and who we are,” she said. “This has always been my home. I love it so dearly and I love that the community has been so involved in the western way of life and with rodeo. The support I have gotten through my endeavors has been outstanding. I want to take a moment to say thank you to them.”

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