20-year-old Detroiter makes history as first black Michigan State University rodeo queen

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Khalilah Smith is just 20 years old and a rodeo queen from The Motor City.

"I'm from Detroit and I came to ride horses and when I tell people I ride horses they're like, you're an inner-city kid from Detroit. What are you doing with a horse?"

What she's doing is making history as the first black Michigan State University rodeo queen. 

"Little kids get to see me and this one girl even cried because she had never seen a black rodeo queen before," Khalilah said. "Everyone's around me because they're like,'We've never seen this; we're so happy you're doing it. We need people like you to actually go up there and do the things you're doing.'"

Khalilah got her start as a little kid riding at the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Association. She is now a student at Michigan State who plans to become a veterinarian.

She's barrel racing her way to the Miss Rodeo USA Competition in Oklahoma City in January, and this seemingly calm, cool and collected queen is quite nervous.

"I actually just watched the Miss Rodeo America Pageant and that kind of took my nerves away because I saw all the girls with their confidence and it's like, okay I can do this," she said. "I took a nice deep breath."

Khalilah is working on getting sponsors for her trip and hoping to win big out west. But this self-described inner-city kid from Detroit will always be considered a queen here at home, where she's working to introduce more children to horses, to rodeo and to trying new sports.

"I feel like it's amazing that I can do it and actually go back to Detroit kids," she said.

Kids, she says, are too often only exposed to basketball or boxing instead of barrel racing.

"I want to get more kids into horses because it's a very fun sport and it teaches you something to care of another animal," she said. "Not just a dog or a rabbit or a cat. This animal is 1,200 pounds."

And in rodeo she says it's all about that animal and that relationship.

"You have to have a connection with your horse. You have to put in that groundwork, you have to be there for your horse," she said. "Rub them, pet them, go out there and feed them - get the riding time in."

It's hard work but it's worth it for Khalilah, who knows she's inspiring others to take the reigns and enjoy the rush.

"It's amazing because a lot of kids get into it because of the adrenaline rush," she said. "So it's a cool sport."

She is leaving on Sunday for Oklahoma. If you'd like more information on the pageant or to vote for Khalilah, click here.  

If you'd like more information on sponsoring Khalilah, you can contact her here.