Women’s roping events have been part of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) since its inception 70 years ago, languishing for decades as the tomboy-kid-sister-in-braces in the shadow of its glamorous-and-flashy big sis, barrel racing.
Until now, that is.
Fueled by the explosive growth of breakaway (see “Lariat Lingo” sidebar) roping, an entire new cadre of hardcore female athletes is embracing the “Rope Like a Girl” tag phrase coined by the winningest female roper of all time, Lari Dee Guy.
Guy, a seven-time WPRA world champion, won both 1st and 2nd place in team roping in the Charlie 1 Horse All-Girl Challenge this past summer—heading for Whitney DeSalvo for the win and for Annette Stahl for second. In addition, her black mare Sabrina—co-owned with 23-time World Champion Roper Trevor Brazile—was named the best head horse in the competition. And DeSalvo—who wore out her Lari Dee Guy clinician videos as a youngster and got Guy’s autograph when she was just 13—earned the right to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her hero, mentor, and now partner-and-friend for the win.
All in all, Guy won a total of $25,500 at the event, held at the 41st Annual Bob Feist Invitational in Reno. The total payout for the Charlie 1 Horse All-Girl Challenge came to $135,000—prize money that would have been unheard of in women’s roping events just a few years back.
“We bought the rights to the Bob Feist Invitational in 2012,” Kami Peterson tells me. The “we” she references is Ullman Peterson Events, comprising Corky Ullman, her husband Daren Peterson, and herself. “Our goal was to build the Charlie 1 Horse All-Girl Challenge into the highest-paying, most prestigious women’s roping event in the country, and so that the women who compete can feel appreciated as much as are the guys.” Ullman Peterson Events is well on its way to doing so, beginning by its roping-in of Title Sponsor Charlie 1 Horse.
“Charlie 1 Horse is a fashion-forward, trend-savvy brand and we recognized the great potential in aligning ourselves with this fast-growing women’s sport,” says Charlie 1 Horse Brand Director Mary Jane Carpenter. “We’re proud to lead the way in helping to provide big money and great prizes for these talented cowgirls.”
“BFI Week in Reno is a destination for ropers from around the world,” says Peterson. “Many of the women ropers have been here before, as girlfriends or wives of competitors. We wanted to give them something of their own. It creates an opportunity for women to get involved—both amateurs and professionals— to experience participating in a WPRA-approved event where they can earn points, promote clinics, and experience the thrill of winning.”
According to Patti McCutchen, WPRA’s roping division director, the number of women ropers joining WPRA has roughly doubled in the past five years. “We’re seeing tremendous growth,” she says, “and more breakaway competitions at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) events.”
McCutchen is quick to point out that in addition to the all-girl events, more women are competing alongside the cowboys in the Ariat World Series of Team Roping, which runs concurrently with the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, and in the United States Team Roping Championships.
Other big money all-girl events include the Windy Ryon and RFD-TV’s The American, which in 2019 is adding breakaway for the first time. Seventeen-time Breakaway World Champion Jackie Crawford, winner of the 2018 California’s Richest Breakaway, is an early favorite among the contenders. The American will also expand from a one-day to a two-day event in 2019, with total prize money of more than $2.3 million.
As further testament to the growth of breakaway, earnings in The American—as well as in the semi-finals at Fort Worth Cowtown and at select American qualifying events—will also count toward WPRA World Standings beginning in 2019, according to McCutchen. RFD-TV estimates that the addition of breakaway will bring an additional 1,000 qualifiers to The American. “Breakaway ropers are ecstatic to be part of this huge event,” McCutchen says.
This year’s WRPA World Champions will be crowned at the end of the 2018 season. Strong contenders include the 2017 World Champions—Kelsey Chase in the Breakaway and All-Around, Kari Nixon in Tie-Down, Hope Thompson as Team Roping Header, and Whitney DeSalvo as Team Roping Heeler—along with ropers such as Lari Dee Guy, Jackie Crawford, Annette Stahl, JJ Hampton, and a host of up-and-comers.
With the increase of women participants comes an increase in spectators, an increase in sponsorship, and an increase in young women aspiring to live up to the “Rope Like a Girl” credo—all of which fuels more explosive growth of this thrilling sport.
“When I was growing up, there wasn’t much demand or encouragement for women ropers,” says Guy. “My journey made me want to make it easier for the younger women ropers coming up behind me, which is why I devote so much time to my clinics and videos. Interest in women’s roping is absolutely continuing to grow and grow, and I want to help the younger generation, so it can continue.”
Breakaway: Breakaway is an event in which a calf is roped, but not thrown and tied, and is arguably the most fast-paced and thrilling event in rodeo with stellar performances hovering below the three-second mark. The calf is moved into a chute with spring-loaded doors, and the horse and rider wait in a box next to the chute that has a spring-loaded rope, known as the barrier, stretched in front. A light rope is fastened from the chute to the calf’s neck, releasing once the calf is well away from the chute and releasing the barrier, to ensure that the calf gets a head start. Once the barrier has released, the horse runs out of the box and the rider attempts to throw a lasso around the calf’s neck.
Once the rope is around the calf’s neck, the rider signals the horse to stop suddenly. The rope is tied to the saddle horn with a light string. When the calf hits the end of the rope, the rope is pulled tight and the string breaks. The breaking of the string marks the end of the run. The rope usually has a small white flag at the end that makes the moment the rope breaks more easily seen by the timer. The fastest run wins.
Break the Barrier: Before the horse and rider leave the roping box, the calf has to “break the barrier,” a rope that’s stretched across the roping box and attached to another rope that’s tied around the calf’s neck. This gives the calf a head start. A 10-second penalty is assessed if the rider doesn’t allow the calf to break the barrier before starting.
Cross Fire: A disqualifying move where the heeler ropes the legs before the header ropes and redirects the steer.
Dally: A wind of the rope around the saddle horn after the calf’s been roped.
Fishing: When a missed first throw results in a lucky catch of the steer’s horns, usually by flipping the rope.
Header: The roper on a two-person team charged with roping the steer’s head.
Heeler: The roper on a two-person team charged with roping the steer’s hind feet.
Honda: The round loop at the end of a rope that allows a lasso to be made.
Hooey: A half-hitch knot, used in the final loop to secure a calf’s three legs in tie-down roping.