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Unparalleled equine athleticism, supreme cow-handling expertise, and incomparable horsemanship culminate in Art of the Cowgirl’s All Women Ranch Rodeo

Presented by COWGIRL Magazine. 

BY MERILEE RAYNOR | PHOTOS BY KEN AMOROSANO

From the split second that four mounted cowgirls burst through the gate, the solitary steer from the other end of the arena is on the move.  Two riders sprint straight for the steer, lariats swinging and heels propelling their horses forward.  As they home in on the cow, each cowgirl releases a loop—one, to encircle its bobbing head; the other, to trap its scrambling back legs.

As the ropes pull taut, the other two competitors spring to the steer.  They string the front and back hooves and chalk the steer.  In a split second, they release the steer and the team remounts.  The second steer enters the pen. Without hesitation, two team members swing their loops repeatedly, barreling towards their next target.  Again, the team skillfully ropes, ties and chalks the cow. Once all ropes are loose from the cow, the flag drops and the team’s run at “double doctoring” is done.  As the horsewomen smile and hear their time announced across the arena’s loudspeaker, appreciative shouts, claps, and murmurs flow from the crowd.

With unwavering focus and infallible skills, the team of four horsewomen are ready to take on the next three events in Art of the Cowgirl’s All Women Ranch Rodeo.

Women’s ranch rodeo—a relatively new phenomenon—brings together women of all ages to appreciate and honor their cattle, horse, and ranching heritages.  The events emanate from those established at the very first ranch rodeos, showing off the skills needed to govern cattle, relying on advanced horsemanship, seasoned cow-sense and unwavering team work.  Although women competing in ranch rodeos has been a tradition for the past 200 years, an all-women’s association dedicated to ranch rodeo competition and promotion is a relatively recent accomplishment. 

Art of the Cowgirl’s All-Women’s Ranch Rodeo Producer, Sierra Brown, understands how all women’s ranch rodeos contribute to the legacy of cattle driving, hardworking, Western women.  “Women have been a part of the ranching industry for centuries.  We see it more commonly now for women to be horseback doing the jobs right alongside their husbands, family, or coworkers, but in fact, women have done these gritty tasks for many, many years,” she says.  “Ranch rodeos like this one are unique because they bring these women, who are working hard at home doing these same “events,” to town to show off just how good they are at their jobs.”

Born in the Flint Hills of Kansas, the Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association was established in 2005 to “educate its members and viewers while perpetuating and promoting the sport of Women’s Ranch Rodeo.”  The WRRA also “honors the lifestyles and skills associated with women in the cattle, equine and ranching industries.” The WRRA serves cowgirls who dreamed of a cohesive union to support and perpetuate the long-standing tradition of Western women. 

For more than 15 years, the WRRA and countless all-women ranch rodeos have brought the heritage of women of the West alive through showcasing phenomenal horses, incomparable cowgirl horsemanship, and mastery of cattle management skills.

Ranch Rodeo Horses

A truly versatile and effective ranch horse is quiet, intelligent, obedient, and most of all, athletic.  In one instant, he needs to bring a steer down the fence line with faultless control and in the next, wait patiently while a team member brands the steer.  A ranch horse needs to have flawless movements with impeccable slides, rollbacks, and spins while remaining balanced and adjusting gaits to complete any ranch task. He must negotiate any task put forth with ease and expedience.  Horse and rider must be in perfect synchronicity to compete at Art of the Cowgirl’s All Women Ranch Rodeo.

Art of the Cowgirl’s Mesa Pate—World’s Greatest Horsewoman, Ranch Rodeo, and Elite Ranch Horse Sale Director—says her perfect horse is a lethal combination of being cow smart, well-broke and highly skilled.  Mesa details exactly what good ranch rodeo horses need to be, and why they need to be at the top of their game.

“They need to be very cow smart, which not only means being cowy, but knowing when they need to act like a cutting horse and when to act like a rope horse. They have to be very broke.  They need to respond very quickly and without hesitation to what they are being asked, but also be able to think for themselves.  At a ranch rodeo, when things are going fast and you can’t be thinking about your roping and your horse, you have to be able to rely on your horse to put you in a good position no matter what.

“While the majority of the ranch rodeo is a timed event, there is a judged element with the Elite Ranch Horse competition, so these horses really need to possess an aesthetically pleasing element as well.  They have to know the maneuvers and execute them like show horses, then be gritty ranch horses in the next event.  It makes for a very well-rounded, highly able animal.”

For , Carmen Buckingham, All Women Ranch Rodeo 2020 competitor, team winner, and “Top Horse” award winner, the horses needed to compete at this level are truly incredible.  Carmen and her horse, Wilson, placed in the number two slot for the Elite Ranch Horse phase and won the overall “Top Horse” award.  For Carmen, a good competition ranch rodeo horse needs to have a good head, good training and great athleticism, a rare triad. 

“The three things I think a horse needs to have to succeed is a good mind-set, most of all; to be able to handle the pressure and speed; and to be in peak form.” 

The horses ridden by the competitors in the All Women Ranch Rodeo are premier athletes with thousands of saddled hours shared between them and their horsewomen. They are well-bred, well-handled and above all, well-loved by their cowgirls. 

Art Of The Cowgirl’s All Women Ranch Rodeo

A sanctioned ranch rodeo,  Art of the Cowgirl’s All Women Ranch Rodeo is open to the Western women of the world.  The ranch rodeo allows competitors to bring their cowgirl skills to the forefront, and leave everything in the arena dirt.  From the beginning, Tammy and Mesa Pate have envisioned the ranch rodeo as an event that focuses on the excellence of ranching women. The event has expanded and Sierra Brown is continuing in the effort to elevate the event in 2021.  To Sierra, the ranch rodeo is an event that celebrates the cohesiveness between women and the Western lifestyle.

“The whole event fosters a future for women and their families in the Western world through fellowships and the annual gathering in Arizona,” Sierra says.  “Having this ranch rodeo that consists of all women competitors is just another way to educate people in things such as horsemanship, Western gear making, the value of teamwork, the ranching lifestyle, and so much more.”

Any woman can enter in four-member teams to try her hand at the four phases of the ranch rodeo: double doctoring, branding, team roping and ranch horse.  Each phase of the All Women Ranch Rodeo garners its own score.  At the end of the preliminary week of competition, the top four teams from the total 40 teams are invited back for a clean slate, “Final Four” short-round showdown on Friday. 

The structure of Art of the Cowgirl’s All Women Ranch Rodeo emphasizes the importance of a well-rounded horse and rider. According to Mesa, there is no other event that showcases a cowgirl and her horse like the ranch rodeo.  “Our ranch rodeo is structured to not only showcase the cowgirls, but the ability of the horses and their level of horsemanship,” she says. “This makes the attributes your horse needs to possess especially important!”

In 2020, the top four teams, the “Idaho Girls,” “Lucas Livestock,” “Bar Diamond,” and “Rodeo Central” were nothing short of incredible.  Fighting their way through each of the four phases, no one team swept the competition, but instead put up a fight that kept their co-competitors on their toes. 

For Carmen Buckingham, the 2020 All Women Ranch Rodeo was a stunning success.  Her team, the “Idaho Girls,” won the branding phase and won the overall championship.  Carmen’s incredible horsemanship and ranch rodeo abilities shown throughout the competition.  For her, the culmination of skills and competition have drawn her in and kept her competing in the All Women Ranch Rodeo.  Carmen said, “I compete in these ranch rodeos because I love roping, showing horses, and having a team that can have a strategy in an event and make it happen smoothly.”

Watch Carmen Buckingham and all of the horsewomen compete January 13-17, 2020 in Art of the Cowgirl’s All Women Ranch Rodeo Presented by COWGIRL Magazine. CG