BY SKYELUR FESTA
I grew up in a small town in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA and have been obsessed with horses for as long as I can remember. I was always that girl who wanted to pet every horse or pony she laid her eyes on. I read every horse book I could manage to get my hands on and reread and reread the ones I owned. When I was seven years old, I finally started taking riding lessons and entered my first horse show a few months later. I joined a local 4-H horse club the following year and was an active member until I aged out of the program at 18.
Over the years, I held several leadership positions from club officer to Horse Bowl captain. At the age of thirteen, I was elected as the youngest club president. As a team captain and member of the Horse Bowl and Hippology (the study of horses) I defended my individual championship at the Region 1 PA Horse Bowl contest 4 times (2 years as a junior and twice as a senior.) And as a junior rider, I competed in both 4-H and USEF rated shows, where I trained and catch-rode several green ponies to year-end championships.
In addition to the horse hair and the hard work at the barn, I compete in a completely different world – pageants. I’m Miss West Chester International 2019. Since I was a young girl, I’ve watched Miss America and Miss USA pageants on TV. I’ve always dreamed of being on that stage, so four years ago I entered a local Miss America Organization pageant (Miss Southeastern PA/Miss Neshaminy Valley) and began my pageant life.
I quite frankly was not prepared for the tough questions that were asked in the interview portion of the competition. Prior to that pageant, I was never in a situation where I was asked my opinion on an array of controversial topics. Pageantry has made me a more confident, outspoken woman who’s not afraid to use her voice for positive change.
Every contestant is required to establish a personal platform; a cause that she will advocate for during her reign. For me, that platform is #ThankOurVeteransAndSupportOurMilitaryFamilies. I was raised to always thank our veterans and those who currently serve. I come from a military family with a great-grandfather that served in World War I, three great-uncles in World War II (one having never returned as he was KIA in the Battle of Anzio), a Marine grandfather and an uncle that served in Vietnam.
As a pageant titleholder, I travel across Southeastern Pennsylvania attending events and advocating for my platform. As a role model and public figure, I hold myself to a higher standard. When I’m not making appearances, I manage my social media accounts, event/appearance schedule and write speeches for upcoming events.
There are many stereotypes and misconceptions about pageants. When people hear the words “beauty queen” or “pageant girl,” they think of Toddlers and Tiaras or super fake personas. In my experience, that is the farthest from the truth. The young women I have met through pageants are some of the most accomplished, generous, and driven women I have ever met. Together we’ve created a sisterhood, a sort of sorority.
There are plenty of days where it’s difficult to balance horses and pageants in my life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I take the same focus, determination and passion that’s required to succeed in the show ring with me to the pageant stage. Both horse shows and pageants can be stressful. It’s easy to compare yourself to your fellow competitors during rehearsals or schooling breaks.
My trainer always told me to compete against yourself. Do your personal best, and don’t worry about what others are doing, because in the end the only thing that matters is how you performed. I’ve taken that same philosophy to the pageant world. You might not be the thinnest, prettiest or tallest girl on stage, but what you can be is confident in who you are.
Know that if you win the crown or the blue ribbon, you’ll be amazing because you’ve prepared for this moment. Somewhere out there, a little girl dreams of being just like you. Whether I’ve nailed an on-stage question at a pageant or found the perfect distance at every fence in my equitation course, I get the same amazing feeling of accomplishment.
Skyelur Festa lives in Pennsylvania, and you can follow her equestrian life and pageant journey on social media at @TheRealSkyelurF_Equestrian