Imagine backing your horse into the roping box on a warm July evening in Cheyenne, Wyo., just like rodeo cowboys have been doing for 122 years. You nod your head, ride hard to the calf, rope it and stop your horse right there in the iconic arena dirt. You hear the crowd go wild.
As one of the first lady breakaway ropers to compete at the “Daddy of ‘em All,” Tiffany Ogren of Hysham, Mont., got to experience all those emotions first hand at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
“I don’t even know if I can describe it. There is all this history behind Cheyenne Frontier Days and there was such an excitement. It was incredible,” Ogren stated.
Commonly an event for women in high school, college and some amateur rodeos, the breakaway roping event continues to grow a solid fan base as more and more professional rodeos across the country are adding it to their event line up. Traditionally women in professional rodeo have only been able to compete in barrel racing, but change is on the horizon.
Breakaway roping is one of the fastest events in rodeo. Top notch women riding elite equine athletes must start at a standstill and launch their horse into a run in the hopes of roping a squirrely calf that has been given a head start. The calf is roped and at the same time, the 1200-pound horse that was just going full-bore must now stop. When the horse stops, the rope “breaks away” from the rider’s saddle horn while the calf continues to run. The clock is stopped at that point. The incredible part about this event is the fact most competitive ropers can do all of that in under three seconds.
For lady ropers, this past year has been a blur as rodeo circuits and event coordinators acknowledge breakaway roping, and payouts have been big. The American Rodeo, held every March in Arlington, Tex., offered breakaway roping for the first time during its 2019 rodeo. The event was wildly popular and a 16-year-old Texas girl walked away the event champion and $110,000 richer.
The American Rodeo isn’t the only event where breakaway ropers can pocket some serious dough. The Rope for the Crown breakaway roping held in Las Vegas, Nev., in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo offers a 90 percent payback with $25,000 added. Bex Best Breakaway was held this year on the heels of the Cheyenne Frontier Days and the winner pocketed $25,000 alone.
Looking towards the professional rodeo road, the Columbia River Circuit, which has PRCA sanctioned rodeos around the Pacific Northwest, offered breakaway roping at about 30 percent of their rodeos during the 2019 season. Iconic rodeos like the Pendleton Round-up in Oregon and the Days of 47 Rodeo held in Salt Lake City, Utah, made a spot in history for female rodeo athletes this past year as well.
“This is a really exciting time because girls can actually be rewarded for the hard work we have been doing for decades,” said Ogren.
Ogren began breakaway roping in high school and over the years she has gotten to watch the event progress and gain in popularity. In college, while rodeoing on scholarship at Montana State University, Ogren was crowned the region champion breakaway roper. This year Ogren will end the 2019 rodeo season sitting fifth in the Northern Rodeo Association (NRA) breakaway roping standings. The NRA finals will be held Oct. 24-26 in Kalispell, Mont.
As an amateur circuit, the NRA has offered breakaway roping as an event nearly since the beginning. For a long time, the NRA was one of the only options for Montana lady ropers after college, but some pro rodeos are starting to pick up on the idea. This past year, three Montana Pro Rodeos, held in Libby, Wolf Point and Baker, offered breakaway roping.
The PRCA has been conducting fan polls and breakaway roping is getting rave reviews. Ogren believes it is becoming so popular because breakaway roping is extremely palatable for the fans. The fast-paced event holds their attention and is relatively low stress on the animals involved.
In the early days of rodeo, women competed right alongside the men. Today, 100 years after greats like Fannie Sperry Steele, Ruth Roach and Mabel Strickland Woodward made history for western women, there is a new wave of trail blazers as 21st century breakaway ropers, like Tiffany Ogren, look to secure their place in history, proving it is quite alright to rope like a girl.