Friday, July 11, 2014 | 2 a.m.
For two hours, Jenni Mann sits in a chair, eyes closed and completely still as extensions are added to each of her eyelashes.
Her dark locks, which usually fall just past her shoulders, now swim around her waist — also the result of a hairstylist's magic.
Mann, 16, has spent a good portion of this day at the salon, making the transformation from high school student to Nevada royalty as she prepares to compete in her first national pageant.
"This is not who I am," Mann says, laughing. "I don't like doing girly stuff."
But it's all part of the job when you're Miss Nevada High School Rodeo Queen and you’re about to begin your quest this weekend to take the crown as the National High School Rodeo Queen.
Mann has been breathing rodeo ever since she was 11 years old, when a hunting trip with her grandpa's best friends introduced her to the bond between humans and horses. She had just lost her grandpa, and the trip had been organized as a needed distraction.
"I noticed how horses are really like big dogs," Mann said, "They're forgiving and gentle."
When she learned that one of the sons of her grandpa's friends was involved in Jr. High Rodeo, a branch of the Nevada High School Rodeo Association, the Las Vegas native wanted to try her luck as well.
"I just dove right into it," Mann said."I'd trained a little bit with my grandpa's friends, but that was it."
Mann turned out to be a natural, quickly improving on her times as she competed at the junior high level in events such as pole bending, barrel racing and breakaway roping.
She had always wanted to venture into the pageant side of rodeo, as well, but uncertainty kept her from registering. Not until her sophomore year at Foothill High School did Mann decide to sign up for a pageant; a year later, she'd earned the state crown.
"Winning was such a memorable moment for me," Mann said, "I couldn't breathe when they said my name."
Mann beat out two girls to win the state title; it was not a simple task.
Girls are judged in eight categories, including horsemanship, speech, personality, appearance and a written test on the rules of rodeo.
Mann prefers horsemanship, in which she gets to demonstrate the relationship she has with her top competition horse, Beau, although Mann admits competitive riding can get a bit frustrating.
"It's hard not being able to talk to the horse," Mann said, "You don't know how they're feeling. It's not like they can say, 'Sorry, I wish we hadn't knocked over that pole."
Nevertheless, she feels joy in being able to communicate with her horse "without saying a word." They are able to navigate through obstacles by way of physical cues.
The bond between girl and horse isn't all Mann enjoys about being a rodeo pageant contestant — getting involved also brings her family together. Every other weekend, they load up their trailer and travel to competitions across the state.
Her parents often take time off work to support her.
"It's hard. I do a lot of shift trades," said her father, Jeffrey, a firefighter.
But to him, it's all worth the "exhilaration" that comes with watching his daughter compete.
Rodeo has helped teach Mann about personal responsibility.
"Rodeo isn't like other sports," she said, "It gives you a heartbeat to take care. Not a ball. Not a golf club."
The pageant side has given her a sense of confidence.
She stays up-to-date on current events in an effort to impress the judges during the impromptu question and personal interview stages.
"At the last pageant, I was sitting there thinking: 'Look at my baby girl. She's showing off,’" said Jaymi, Mann's mom.
And show off, she does. As the state titleholder, Mann is expected to make appearances at local community events, always in traditional Western garb and a sash.
She spent the Fourth of July at a festival at Henderson’s Mission Hills Park, where she reveled in the "oohs" and "aahs" of children who were excited to be in the presence of a "cowgirl queen."
But the life of a rodeo queen isn’t all glamour, especially when it comes to dealing with expenses.
With the costs of travel, clothes and training, Mann estimates that her family spent around $15,000 preparing for the state finals and national rodeo competition.
Since the Clark County School District doesn't offer financial support for athletes who compete in rodeo, Mann tries to offset costs through PayPal donations and sponsorships.
She said she was thankful for the businesses, friends and family members who have been able to help her.
As she travels to Rock Springs, Wyo., to compete for the National High School Rodeo Queen title, Mann will have her supporters in mind.
"My whole state is depending on me," she says as she stands by her queen's carriage, a 35-by-8-foot trailer that will deliver her and Beau to the competition.