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Interview by Ken Amorosano
Photos by Rebecca Cornelius
Lari Dee Guy is a legendary female roper in the likes of rodeo great Wanda Harper Bush. She is, and has always been, a trailblazing force for women in the world of roping. Now with the explosive expansion of breakaway roping on the professional rodeo scene, she is smack-dab in the middle of the sport’s promotion and growth while remaining its fiercest competitor. COWGIRL sat down with Lari Dee to find out how the seasoned arena veteran puts it all together, what’s in store for the future of the sport, and a few things about her personal past.
COWGIRL: Tell us a little bit about Guy ranch.
LARI DEE GUY: It was a ranch that was inherited by my mom, Mary Gas, and my dad had always worked for my mom’s dad. They ended up getting together and getting married, and my dad is the one that has run our ranch and built it up and made it better than it was when we got it.
It’s a cow calf operation, and it’s right outside Abilene, Texas. It’s about 10,000 acres and my mom, dad, and brother, and I work there. We have a couple people that help us, but I grew up there. I’ve lived on that ranch since I was a year old.
CG: Tell us a little bit about your mom.
LDG: She was a barrel racer and she’s kind of the rock of the family. She does everything. She’s the one that makes all the appointments for us, takes care of us, goes to town, does all the errands, and does all the cooking. She says that she’s the chief. She’s the one in charge around there.
CG: What about your dad?
LDG: My dad is an old cowboy. He’s pretty beat up. He does everything on the ranch that has to be done. He rides through the cattle. He drives his bulldozer. He grubs trees. He drives his maintainer, keeps our roads good. He’s a hard-working cowboy.
CG: Tell us about your first car.
LDG: Well, we grew up on a ranch, so we drove young. We had dune buggies and Jeeps. I drove since I was probably five years old, but my first vehicle was a ‘55 Chevrolet pickup that we had purchased from an older gentleman that had a small ranch beside us. It had the original tires and 30,000 miles on it, and that was my truck that I drove to high school.
CG: Still got it?
LDG: Well, unfortunately not. I always thought I would keep the ‘55 Chevrolet and get it redone, but I had a wreck when I was in high school and totaled it.
CG: You were born in 1971. Tell us about Friday nights in Abilene in 1989.
LDG: I was a basketball player and went to school in the small town of Clyde, Texas, outside of Abilene, so most Friday nights, if it wasn’t basketball season, we were at the football games and if it was basketball season, we were at the basketball game. I was an athlete in high school and all my friends were either athletes or cheerleaders, so we went to all the games and then sometimes afterwards, we’d cruise. We had a street that you cruise down, and we all gathered, like those back roads, and all that kind of stuff. We were just kind of some country kids that were athletes.
CG: Breakaway roping is the biggest thing on the rodeo scene right now, and you’re a major force behind it. But Lari Dee Guy’s not just about breaking away. You’re an accomplished roper overall. What’s your whole roping package about?
LDG: My brother was an NFR calf roper. Since I was a young girl I had always tied down calves. I had always team roped. I had always breakaway roped and trained horses. Growing up, there weren’t a lot of girl ropers. I mean, there were girls that roped, but there weren’t girl ropers. I was known as a girl roper and a horse trainer, and it’s just something that I had a passion for.
Back then, it wasn’t something that girls were going to be known for. There were great girl ropers that roped and competed with the men, but they didn’t get the recognition.
I always had a dream that girls roping could get really big one day.
CG: Who did you look up to as a role model when you were growing up?
LDG: Wanda Bush was one of my biggest heroes as a woman growing up, and then there were Judy Ford and Betty Gayle Cooper. Of course, I admired my dad and my mom for what they did for me and how my dad taught me to rope. My dad was the one that taught me everything. I looked up to a lot of the men like Roy Cooper, as much as I did the women just because I wanted to do as a girl what they did as guys.
CG: Although you’re not 50 years old yet, you’re arguably the Grande Dame of a women’s roping. How do you feel when you see young women like Madison Outhier and Cassie Bahe giving you and veterans, like yourself, a run for your money?
LDG: That’s what I feel I’ve worked for all the years—to better the sport and to encourage the younger generation to want to rope and to be great. That’s the stuff that makes you feel good and makes you smile—to see the younger generation giving you a run for your money. It’s pretty cool what breakaway roping has done. It seemed like, for me, it took half of my life for breakaway roping to get where it is now.
CG: Because you’ve done a lot for the sport and advancement of women in rodeo, all these young girls have a lot to thank you for. What are you getting out of it?
LDG: We’re not owed anything for what we’ve done. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t want to do it, and me giving back and helping and all that… That’s just how I am. I want to better the sport. I want to help the sport, and you know what? It makes me happy. It gives me satisfaction. It gives me a great feeling to see what has happened and how great girls are roping, and then how far roping has come.
CG: It sounds to me like you’re as big a fan of these young girls as they are of you.
LDG: I’m probably a bigger fan.
CG: As a roper, what goes through your mind every time you back into the box?
LDG: I try to just get calmness because I want to win just like everybody else. I guess, when I back in there, I don’t really think of anything except doing the job. Breakaway roping, roping, and rodeo are the job, and so I back in there and just do my job and I want to do my job better than everybody else that day.
CG: Your signature phrase “Rope like a Girl” it is a very powerful statement. It really says a lot. What does it mean to you?
LDG: A friend of mine, Chelsea Shaffer, had come to me at Reno—I think it was in 2015—and asked me, “If I started hash-tagging some photos of you that say, ‘Rope like a girl,’ could you make that cool?” At first I was like, ‘Oh no. No,’ and I sat there for a minute, and we were visiting and talking and I said, ‘You know what? I think I can.’
All my life, growing up, I was always taught you don’t rope like a girl, you don’t do stuff like a girl, and the more I thought about it, I thought, we are girls and we do rope like girls. We just need to rope like awesome girls. The more I thought about it, the more I thought of what it could do for our industry to know that girls can rope like girls and roping like a girl is a great thing—it has empowered this moment.
There were so many older girls that contacted me and were like, ‘Thank you for that. I want to crack back out. I want to get with this,’ and then all the young girls and their moms, and even their dads were like, ‘Man, this is cool, I want my young girl to rope like a girl.’ I feel it’s something… a way to empower women to go and follow their dreams and do what they want to do, because I feel there were so many of them that want to do what I’ve been doing all my life too. They want to go and pursue the roping, but just kind of knew that after college, there was no more. I think it was that phrase that kind of went beyond that.
CG: Breakaway roping has been around for years but it’s never gained this kind of attention. Why now?
LDG: I feel that breakaway roping owes a lot to the WCRA. I felt like the WCRA was the first one to give the girls a chance at equal money and a chance to rope for $50,000, and once they did that, all of these places started saying, ‘Hey, there’s something to this. This is a cool thing,’ and, RFD-TV’s The American got on board, the PRCA is getting on board, all of these huge rodeos and jackpots. We are seeing what girls can do and showcasing their talent, not only in the barrels, but in the breakaway, and I feel that’s what our industry needed—another women’s event in rodeo to showcase not only the barrel racers but the the breakaway ropers.
CG: 2020 was going to explode with breakaway roping having such momentum coming out of 2019, and then we got slammed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Most, if not all, of the big ones that were going to showcase this sport were canceled, and now here we are. What impact has COVID-19 had on this momentum?
LDG: It’s had a major impact on the world. Like I said, as a rancher, look what it did to our cattle prices, and then when the meat went up and all that, it affected the oil, it affected the cattle, it affected the world, As breakaway ropers, I felt like everything in the world was shut down for a few months because they wouldn’t let us out to do what we do, but once they started opening up some events… I mean, breakaway roping hasn’t really been held back that much. I feel it’s still gaining momentum. You could say COVID-19 possibly postponed breakaway roping getting to Las Vegas (NFR). I don’t know when it will get there, but it probably set it back a year or two.
CG: Do you think it will become part of the NFR, and do you think it needs to be?
LDG: Both. I feel that it will be there. Will it be there when I’m getting to rope? I hope so, but I feel it will be there, and I feel that is what our industry needs. I mean, you count up the events in rodeo, and all but one are men’s events. I feel that spectators are wanting to be fans of another women’s event, and I feel that’s what rodeo needs. There are a lot of little girls and women out there that are spectators of rodeo that would love to be fans of ladies’ roping.
CG: With the 2020 calendar slipping away, what’s in store for breakaway roping in 2021?
LDG: I just feel major rodeos are going to be picking up the breakaway. I feel that there’s going to be a lot of spectators out there that become fans of breakaway ropers. They’re going to get to see these girls showcase their talents with many of the big events being televised.
It’s cool to see the growth that has come in the last three years. For so long, it was just kind of at a standstill, and now it’s just skyrocketed. The sky’s the limit; it’s getting to be the most popular event there is right now.
CG: You have been a teacher for many years and you’re pretty busy competing. Is teaching still part of your life?
LDG: Oh, absolutely, because you have to keep trying to make the sport better, and I feel that bringing information to the people that need it to better themselves is something that you got to continue to do to keep growing the sport. Balancing it so far has been pretty easy. I don’t know how easy it will be if we’re having to go to a hundred rodeos a year, but for now, going to 30 or 50 rodeos a year is very managable.
CG: Breakaway roping. Can anybody do this?
LDG: I feel you can do anything you want to do. You just have to set your mind to it and put in the hard work. Roping is an art. You’ve got to be able to ride and rope. I say a lot of people can rope and a lot of people can ride, but trying to ride and rope together and be as fast as we have to be is another thing. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do, but it’s for sure possible to do.
CG: How important is the horse?
LDG: I’m big on horsemanship and horses, and I feel that the horse helps so much. If you have a horse that scores, runs, stops… If you have a great horse, it sure makes for a great roper. A great roper on a pretty good horse is just a good roper, but a great roper on a great horse is a great roper. Great horses make great ropers.
CG: What things do you think make a great roping horse?
LDG: I feel that a roping horse needs to score. I feel they need to run. I feel they need to stop well. I feel they need to be cowy and be able to read the cow. I also feel that one needs to want to stay with you, stay under you. There are horses out there that try to get away from you, get out from under you per se, but those horses that want to help you, stay with you.
CG: What do most people not know about you?
LDG: Well, I’ve said this before, but it’s the truth. I’m a big fan of barrel racing, and I’m a big fan of barrel horses and the barrel racers. I know most of the girls’ horses and I know most of the barrel racers. I just love to watch the barrel race.
CG: What would you like people to know about you?
LDG: I guess, that I just… I like to give back. I like to help out.