As a Miss Teen, Gilliland traveled to surrounding states to compete. As Miss Rodeo, she travels the United States. The Miss Rodeos will spend the entire year preparing for the NFR (National Finals Rodeo), which is held in Las Vegas, Nevada. The goal is to attain the title, Miss Rodeo America. It is a huge, televised event, nicknamed "The Super Bowl of Rodeo." "It is a bucket list dream of mine to go there," says Gilliland.
Gilliland got in to Rodeo when she attended her first Rodeo at six years old. She met a barrell racer that told her she could be a Rodeo Queen one day, too; so, that's what Gilliland did. Gilliland got her first horse when she was 12 and started competing when she was 13 or 14. She started getting competitive when she was 16, after she got her driver's license and could travel more. Surprisingly, Gilliland has never had a horse back riding lesson: "I learned everything the hard way," said Gilliland. It seems as though Gilliland is a product of natural talent and hard work.
According to Gilliland, there are several categories in Rodeo. There is bareback broncs, saddle broncs, bull riding, tie-down roping, team roping and barrel racing. Gilliland barrel races and ropes and does these events every single weekend. On average, she goes to about four Rodeos a month--sometimes more. Unfortunately, traveling every weekend is not cheap; so, to support herself, she works two jobs.
A typical work day for Gilliland looks like working night shifts, going home and sleeping for a few hours, taking care of the animals and then going to her second job, all while attending appearances and writing letters and thank you notes to her sponsors. Gilliland comments, "The Rodeo is like a third job. I am thankful that my jobs at The Park and Martha Lloyd are so understanding of my schedule. They work with me to make sure I can go to Rodeos and still have a full paycheck. For example, one week I will work overtime (about 60 hours), and the next I will be at a Rodeo. I've become really good friends with my bosses over this." Gilliland credited her parents for instilling this sort of work ethic in her from a young age through working at a dairy farm in middle school and high school. She has carried that work ethic in to her adult life, and she is making great strides because of it.
Because of Gilliand's work ethic, her family is equally supportive of her dreams: "As long as I am working and trying, my father supports whatever I need. And my mom has never pushed me to go to college. She would rather see me do what I love than go to college and get a job I'm not passionate about." In short, Gilliand's family is always there to reinforce her ventures in Rodeo.
While Gilliand's work ethic is a corner stone to her achievements, her competitive spirit is what drives her: "I stayed local for a long time, but Rodeos got to the point where they didn't feel like hard competition anymore. I'm a very competitive person, so, in order for me to stay focused, I had to start competing at a level above mine. I drive off of the challenge, not paychecks--the improvement of the horse and myself." Essentially, Gilliland goes to Rodeos to see if she can reach a new level. Many people question why she enters Rodeos that she is not likely to win--especially since it costs $50 or more a pop just to compete. Gilliland's reply is, "I would rather be challenged than win."
Eventually, Gilliland wants to make Rodeos full time. To get up to that professional level, she is starting to train two young mares since her older horse, Outlaw, is slowing down: "It's heartbreaking to retire one of your horses because you put so much time and effort into them. People who don't understand Rodeo, they don't get how hard it is to give up that team. It's a trust thing. If you don't go into the arena trusting your horse 110 percent, something bad is bound to happen. Outlaw would run through a brick wall if I told him to, so it's hard when their age hits them because you are giving up all that trust and training. I still can't come to terms with Outlaw's retirement because he loves it as much as I do." Gilliland thinks of her horses as a team. Now, she needs to expand that team to up her level.