Women with ropes: Professional breakaway roping sees exponential growth
After the historic 2020 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) crowned its first breakaway world champion, the women’s roping event has exploded across the West. Outstanding female ropers have been around for years, as girls’ breakaway was introduced in 1953 and appeared in college rodeos starting in 1969.
The Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) added breakaway roping during the ’70s, though it wasn’t an annual event until 1989. Over the last five years, and thanks to the strong foundation laid by WPRA athletes throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, women’s professional breakaway roping has become endemic.
“The growth we’re seeing in breakaway roping is amazing,” says Elsie Campbell. “There are so many great horsewomen and women who rope, but they’ve never been able to showcase their talent. Breakaway roping is providing this opportunity.”
“When so many girls grow up watching the WNFR, Cheyenne, Pendleton, Reno and all of the big rodeos, they dream of getting to compete there,” says Peggy Garman of Sundance. “Finally, being able to do it as a woman with a rope is what fuels us to go, because for so long we’ve dreamed of it, but finally having the chance is a huge accomplishment.”
The adrenaline rush and deep connection to horses, as well as the opportunity to put hard-earned skills to use is what drives Peggy to rope competitively. Ultimately, she decided to finish her bachelor’s degree online – just before breakaway roping took off – as she realized the level she wanted to compete at.
“When I graduated in 2015, to think I would have gotten to rope at Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Cody Stampede, as well as other big rodeos, blows my mind,” Peggy shares.
While Elsie was very involved with ranching and horses growing up, she shares breakaway roping is changing her life. The 22-year-old from Riverton saw great success in junior high and high school rodeos at the state and national level. In fact, she started rodeoing professionally during her senior year of high school.
“When I started out, I actually filled my permit by running barrels because breakaway wasn’t quite as big at the time,” Elsie explains. However, roping calves at brandings and other aspects of ranch life kept her interested in breakaway.
Similarly, Coralee Spratt of Shoshoni began breakaway roping in junior rodeos and it was her favorite event in college rodeo.
She says, “Before, if you were going to enter pro rodeos, it meant you had to be a barrel racer. So, it’s awesome girls now have another option to be competitive at pro rodeos.”
Women’s roping on the rise
Today, breakaway roping is the most entered event at any rodeo Peggy has been to in the last year and a half.
She says, “It was not uncommon to go to a rodeo and see 60 to 100 girls entered every weekend at amateur rodeos. Now, it doesn’t matter where the rodeo is, there’s 80 to 100 girls at every rodeo. If there’s breakaway, the girls show up.”
Peggy explains it only took one rodeo like the American or the World Champion Rodeo Alliance offering the event for it to explode.
She notes, “I think this opportunity shows the rest of professional rodeo girls can rope too, and they should be given a chance to showcase it.”
Not only is the growth in breakaway providing more opportunity for female ropers, Peggy believes it is helping rodeo overall as a sport.
“I think adding breakaway gives fans another event to watch, but it also helps rodeo committees bring more contestants to town and increase revenue, all while giving women a chance to compete in iconic areas,” she says. “Giving girls an equal chance at added money has showed committees how fast the event is – it’s an easy event for fans to understand and shows the rest of professional rodeo girls can rope, too.”
Future of breakaway roping
When it comes to the future of breakaway roping, there is still more opportunity and growth to be realized.
“I think breakaway is here to stay because so many people love the aspect of how fast it is, how easy it is on cattle and how easy it is for fans to understand,” says Peggy. “The fact so many women who enter are appreciative to get the chance, I believe we will see 15 girls nod their head at the Thomas and Mack within the next five to seven years for a chance at a world championship.”
“We all crave some level of competition,” Coralee adds, noting the drive and passion behind women in the sport.
Elsie shares, “There are girls who have been at it for a long time, so it’s cool to watch them living out their dream, going to the WNFR and seeing all of their hard work pay off. It also shows everyone there is more to the sport of rodeo, and how handy and versatile women can be.”
Averi Hales is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.