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FEATURED PHOTO: Team Ropers Hope Thompson (Header) and Whitney DeSalvo making a successful run at the 2020 Bob Feist Invitational.
Ladies reign supreme in the roping, and it’s only going to get better. With new opportunities constantly being presented, the level of competition is constantly growing. The ladies of rodeo are finally getting the recognition they deserve, and we can’t wait to see what else they accomplish!
Breakaway roping is now being highlighted on the big stage, but it’s time to shift to another rapidly-growing rodeo event: Women’s Team Roping. Many women are adept at both disciplines, and their dedication and work ethic is unmatched, much like other rodeo competitors. These women are truly an inspiration to any participant or spectator.
Team Roping is considered the only true team event in rodeo and involves a header and a heeler. The pair start from the boxes on each side of the chute from which the steer enters the arena. The steer gets a head start determined by the length of the neck rope. The header ropes first, and must make one of three legal catches on the steer: around both horns, around one horn and the head, or around the neck. Any other catch by the header is considered illegal and the team receives a “no time.” After the header makes their catch, they turn the steer to the left and expose the steer’s hind legs to the heeler. The heeler then attempts to rope both hind legs. If they catch only one foot, the team is given a five-second penalty. After the team catches the steer, the clock is stopped when there is no slack in their ropes and their horses face one another.
Although team roping is thought of as being a predominantly male sport, there are many events that hold “All Girl” competitions. These include The BFI, The USTRC, The Patriot, The Windy Ryon, and The Spoke Invitational to name a few. Women ropers are also seeing equal payout opportunities in recent years as the sport has grown, which is very exciting to see!
COWGIRL had a chance to catch up with 5 very busy ropers: Whitney DeSalvo, Hope Thompson, Martha Angelone, Kelsie Chace, and Sarah Angelone. This group of ladies has won some of the most prestigious titles through hard work and determination. Here’s to wishing all-female rodeo competitors luck as the 2021 season draws to a close.
Hope Thompson’s roping career started with breakaway, where she went on to rodeo for McNeese State University and won the College National Finals Rodeo title in 2008. She never pursued team roping until she moved to the Guy ranch in 2010, where Lari Dee told her if she was going to rope, she was going to do it all. The rest is history. She has gone on to win some of the biggest team ropings: The Wildfire, WPRA World Champion Heading title twice, and the Women’s Rodeo World Championships to name a few.
She says she owes some of her biggest team roping success to Lari Dee Guy, “It’s never a bad thing to learn from one of the best female ropers in the game.” She also credits Whitney DeSalvo, who has been roping with her since the beginning of her team roping career, “I tell her all the time now she’s stuck with me!” The duo won the 2020 WPRA Heading and Heeling titles together.
Her family has been behind her every step of the way and credits her mother, who is currently fighting breast cancer, as her hero. “She’s doing it with courage and faith like I’ve never seen and all the while she supports me 100%.”
Roping and training are Hope’s passions. “My current head horse, Andre, is one that Lari Dee and I bought as a 4-year-old and trained. To me, it’s an advantage because you get to mold them into your own style. I look for a broke, fast-footed, good-minded horse for any discipline. And being pretty is a plus!”
Whitney DeSalvo has become a household name in team roping, and the four-time WPRA World Champion Heeler isn’t stopping anytime soon. Her love for the sport began when she traveled with her mom and her friends to rodeos as a child.
A recent success that has made a big impact was becoming the first female roper to have a number 8 handicap. That came after winning 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the 2020 All Girl BFI, one of the biggest wins in her career.
“When people say it takes a village to do what we do, they really mean it. I have so many amazing people in my life that I look up to and rely on that want me to succeed as much as I do,” she states. “I have always looked up to Lari Dee Guy, Jackie Crawford, and Bev Robbins. I’m living the dream of going toe to toe with them every day now.”
When looking for a heel horse, Whitney says, “I don’t have any specific qualities I look for. I just have a certain feel I like and know what fits me. Most are finished, but just might not have the hauling put on them. I seem to have pretty good luck going that route.”
“Always be a student of the game. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You can never learn too much,” she advises beginner ropers. “Some things are out of my control, but I try to remember how blessed I am to even be doing what I love everyday!”
Martha Angelone’s love for roping began watching her dad rope when she was younger. She has since grown to compete at the largest stages roping has to offer, including winning the USTRC All Girl Finals in 2018 heading for her sister, Sarah. Although she has currently set her main focus on breakaway roping, she has a goal of becoming one of the best team ropers. She says, “I feel like to be the best you have to be mounted, something I’ve always lacked till last year. I’ve got a lot of younger horses coming up that we have very high hopes for.”
Martha prefers buying prospects, then training them into whatever kind of rope horse she thinks they would fit best. She likes her head horses to be proficient in numerous areas, “You have to have a horse that will score, but whenever you drop your hand, you want them to give you their life every time. Having a horse that will rate will help you put a better handle on your steer.”
Martha Angelone heeling in competition at the 2020 WCRA Women’s Rodeo Finals.
Regarding her heel horses, she explains, “Whenever a horse has his head into your bridle reins and is looking a little to the left, it will help you get better separation and have your horse squared up for it’s stop.”
For beginner ropers, Martha recommends, “Get all your fundamentals down on the ground first before getting on a horse, especially in the team roping, where you are also having to dally. When you’re first starting, you’re going to want to give up, but remember to always keep pushing forward.”
Sarah Angelone has been around horses her entire life. She started rodeoing in the Virginia Junior Rodeo Association when she was 5 years old and has competed ever since. Her love of roping began when her father bought a couple of horses and taught her and her sister the basics of team roping. She fell in love instantly and wanted to continue getting better.
One of her biggest team roping successes to date was winning the USTRC All Girl Finals heeling for her sister, Martha. Her goals include having the chance to win some of the bigger, higher payout ropings, such as the BFI, Patriot, World Series Finale, or USTRC Finals.
Sisters Martha and Sarah Angelone compete at The Patriot 2019.
“I train all of my own horses. When I’m looking at potential head horses, I like for them to be really broke in their ribs and soft in their face, while still able to run and move their feet. I like bigger boned horses, especially as head horses.”
When getting started, she recommends finding someone whose style and horsemanship you like and taking lessons from them. “Let them help you get into the sport. I would start on a very seasoned horse because they are great teachers.”
Sarah sees the future of females in team roping continuing to grow. “Just in the past few years, the all-girl ropings have grown tremendously. It’s very cool to see girls get a chance to rope on higher stages for bigger payouts!”
Kelsie Chace grew up in a farming and ranching family in Cherokee, Oklahoma. Both of her parents were team ropers, and she grew up junior rodeoing with her brothers, Kelby and Kade.
Kelsie is already an accomplished all-around competitor with 8 world titles to her name, and now has her eyes set on a heeling world title. Throughout high school and college, she was mainly a header but has really honed in on her heeling over the past few years. Her hard work is paying off, with her biggest team roping win so far being the All Girl Roping at The Patriot with Beverly Robbins earlier this year.
When looking for horses, Kelsie says, “A horse that makes your job easy is the biggest deal to me. I’ve trained a little mare I rode a couple years ago, but now I ride two that Ryan Domer owns, and they are both really good.”
Kelsie Chace heeling at the Lone Star Open in Buffalo, Texas.
With so many years of success under her belt, she has some simple, but effective advice to offer beginner ropers. “Never stop trying to learn and always get help when available.”
Kelsie doesn’t think the momentum of women’s team roping is slowing down anytime soon. “Team roping has really been tough the last couple of years in the all-girl ropings. Most of the open ropings are just as tough as any other roping you can go to, and I think it will just continue to get better and better.”