Horses, 4-H and home. These three things Karena Sokolan speaks of with love in her voice as she describes an idyllic childhood spent in Chimney Valley.
“I love that valley, it’s home.”
Growing up outside, four-wheeling, and riding horses in the valley, Karena learned to appreciate the space as well as some of the lessons of living on an acreage.
“Weekends weren’t weekends, you’re always doing chores,” explained Karena. “I was very grateful to grow up outdoors and learn about the land and learn about animals.”
She spent her winters playing hockey and her summers riding horses and participating in 4-H programs, which she began at six years old.
“My older brothers were in it, so I just dove right in.”
Even if she joined because of her brothers, Karena said she loved the program and 4-H is what provided her with the foundation for her knowledge of agriculture, horses and public speaking.
That foundation helped get here where she is today — the reigning Williams Lake Stampede Queen.
Her friend Cheyenne Shoults was crowned Stampede Queen in 2016, which inspired Karena’s interest in the pageant.
“When I was younger, at the Stampede, I was more interested in the pretty horses and the mini donuts than the Stampede Queens,” she laughs, recalling her childhood self.
As she learned more about the work involved and the program as her friend went through it, she gained respect for it.
At a bit of a loss as to what she might do when she finished school and undecided about what path she might choose, her mom sent her a flyer for the royalty program and she applied.
Unfortunately, that year, a low number of applicants meant there was no competition.
She had also planned a gap year after graduation to travel, but then she heard about the Equine Science program at Olds College in Alberta, she applied and was accepted.
“My mom drove the love of horses into me at a very young age,” said Karena, who has ridden since she was three.
“You’re always wanting to learn, you’re always wanting to get better and improve,” said Karena of her love and dedication to horses. “Especially at my age, where I’m able and just out of high school — in the school mindset.”
Then while finishing her final year of studies at Olds, Karena again applied for the royalty program, which with COVID adaptations, was largely carried out remotely, which was fortunate for her while she was still in Alberta.
Participating in the program was a lot of work, according to Karena.
“It’s not just a pageant, beauty queen-fashion show a lot of people think that it is, it takes a lot of work and a lot of studying,” she explains.
She was soon crowned queen and even though there were no Williams Lake Stampede rodeo events, there were some community events to attend, and a few other rodeos to go to, including the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Red Deer, Alberta.
Karena had also gotten a job at the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin as an administrative assistant when she had returned to Williams Lake, and now has moved up to the marketing and communications coordinator position.
All this while balancing her duties representing the Williams Lake Stampede, helping promote the event and the community.
“It’s been a busy year, it’s been quite the ride,” said Karena. The stampede royalty will be riding into a second round as Stampede Queen due to low applications for the program, and looks forward to more rodeos and other events.