Small-town America isn’t for every teenager.

Cedarville High School’s Shelbi Rice may be the exception. She knows everyone, from toddlers to the names of people’s pets.

The people in Cedarville know her, too.

“You know everyone in your town, and everyone knows you; I love it,” Rice said. “I’m known as the girl that rides horses.”

This summer, the girl with the horse everyone knows was crowned Miss National High School Rodeo Queen in Rock Springs, Wyo.

The high school senior was among 43 contestants vying for the prestigious honor. It’s the first time Miss Arkansas has been crowned the National High School Rodeo Queen since 1968.

“I still wake up every day thinking, ‘Is this real life?’ Rice said. “I’m representing a national group. Being from a small town, some people may not think it’s possible. It’s really unreal; it’s a really neat opportunity.”

Rock Springs, Wyo., and Rice’s first pageant seem like a million miles apart. It almost didn’t happen, either.

“I remember I didn’t want to do it,” recalls Rice, who was 7 when she won a pageant in Ozark. “My mom (Treva) signed me up for it. I was really shy when I was younger. (But) it was really a learning experience. It really brought me out of my shell.”

It didn’t hurt that Rice was the only girl competing in her division. “That was really a good confidence builder for me,” she said.

The weeklong event in Wyoming was broken into two halves, Rice said.

“Of course, there is a lot of preparation before I went out there,” Rice said. “Once I got there, I tried to remember why I started it, and why I wanted to represent Arkansas, as well as my family.”

Rice spent the first half of the week preparing for the actual pageant. She sold 50/50 tickets and helped with Special Olympics.

The top four contestants are invited to the finals, as well as girls from Mexico and Australia.

Rice had previously finished sixth out of 44.

This time was different, though.

“My hometown has always been very supportive; my school is very supportive of me,” she said. “They know this is the career path I want to take.

“I’m fortunate living in a small town to have so much support.”

Rice isn’t just about pageants, either. She competes in barrel racing and pole bending as well.

“Pole bending is not in the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association),” Rice said. “It’s more of a junior rodeo event. There are six PVC poles placed 21 feet apart, and you have to maneuver through them, and the fastest time wins.

“My best time is 21.1.”

Rice grew up with a saddle in her hand. She’s competed on her horse, Cream, for about five years.

“My family’s always had horses,” Rice said. “I’ve always been around horses. I started out in the lower levels. We started going to local shows. I entered some junior rodeos.”

Rice plans to hit the high school rodeo circuit Sept. 8 in Crossett.

Those who compete in high school rodeos are a close group, Rice said. There’s even a high school rodeo prom every spring.

“High school rodeo is really a big deal,” Rice said. “A lot of these kids are home-schooled, otherwise they wouldn’t get to experience prom.”

Rice said her ultimate goal is to compete on the rodeo circuit.

But if that doesn’t happen, she plans to pursue a career in marketing and agriculture.