Roughstock cowgirls: Lady bull riders, bronc riders compete in their own associations
By Jamie Henneman
They may be on a bucking horse in Montana, or riding bulls in Colorado or parking their gear bag behind the chutes at practice pens in throughout the country. No matter where they are, they bring a little something different. It could be the long hair, the pink chaps or a feminine shirt. It is certainly an extra dose of grit, spunk and stubbornness. These are the women of roughstock.
In rodeo, roughstock events, or the events featuring bucking horses and bulls, are usually considered men’s events. But a new generation of cowgirls is showing that praying for eight when they pull that gate isn’t just for the guys.
One Montana cowgirl who is making a name for herself is Wylee Brown. Brown, 19, from Chinook,MT has been riding ranch broncs for the last three years. This summer she often participated in rodeos held by the Wyldman Rodeo Company, regularly making the 8 second whistle.
Ranch bronc competitions allow the contestant to ride a regular stock saddle and attempt to stay on their bucking horse by holding onto a bucking reign in one hand and a night latch (a handle run through the cantle of the saddle) or a coil of rope in the other.
Brown said her interest in the sport directly relates to her love for horses.
“I grew up riding horses but I’ve been riding ranch broncs for about 3 years. I ride because I love the sport and I love the horses. It was something my dad and I could do together and seeing the smile on my dad’s face only fed my love of the sport. Something about following the ‘dance’ of a 1400 pound buckin’ horse puts pure joy in my heart,” Brown said. “The money and the buckles are a bonus though. My goal is to one day ride with the best. I want to be more consistent in my rides, I want to keep getting on great horses that challenge my abilities.”
Women’s ranch bronc riding has gained new notoriety as part of a reality TV series on the channel “Ride TV” in the show “Cowgirls.” The show follows women as they compete against each other in rodeos across the country.
The growing numbers of women interested in the sport was evident at a summer rodeo in Jordan, MT where five women, including Brown, turned up to compete. The competitors hailed from MT, WY, CO and WA. The reasons why the women said they love to ride roughstock was as unique and varied as the cowgirls themselves.
Amaris House, from Colorado, decided to ride ranch broncs for the added challenge.
“I started riding ranch bronc riding in October of 2018 when I decided to jump on the gun and travel from Northern Colorado to Elgin, Texas. I signed up for two nights of riding. My first night was my first out of the chute bronc ever, I came out over the front of the horse and messed up my elbow pretty bad while trying to catch myself. The next night I wrapped it up and prayed for the best, luckily I drew one of the nicest horses anyone could ask for. Just a straight across the arena jump kicker, I ended up winning the Fall Bash in Giddings, Texas that night and just stuck to it,” House related. “I’ve been around horses since I was around 10, it’s not a whole lot different than unruly horses and colts I’ve been on before, but the power of a bronc was something to get used to for sure.
“I truly enjoy everything about rodeo and roughstock, also I can appreciate what a challenge it is, not only as a sport on its own but as a woman behind the chutes,” she added.
Lake Iolani Stevens lives in Wyoming but got her inspiration from her family rodeo background in Hawaii.
“I rode my first ranch Bronc in July of this year. I’ve been riding horses since I was about two or three and I’ve been competing since I was 6. When I lived in Hawaii my mom would rehabilitate & “rescue” animals and my dad was a “mugger”. It’s a little like bulldogging but with a partner so I was always around horses and rodeos” she shared. “I want to ride ranch broncs because it is such a great time and learning a new event is always exciting. My goal in this sport is to be the best I can be and learn as much as I can from as many people as possible.”
The Jordan, MT rodeo was sanctioned by the Texas Bronc Rider’s Association that hosts women’s ranch bronc events in TX, NM, CO, AZ and Canada.
Women’s bull riding
Along with the TBRA that offers women-only ranch bronc events, another organization has sprung up in recent years that allow women the chance to compete against other women in bull riding.
The Women’s Bull Riding Organization was formed in Texas but sanctions rodeos throughout the West including states like Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Organization founder Mandy Shipsky, 40, is a longtime bullrider who used to compete in the now defunct Professional Women’s Rodeo Association. A five-time world champion bullrider in the PWRA, Skipsky was asked to bring back women’s bullriding to the Fort Worth Stock Show in 2015. Despite not having been on a bull in 10 years, Shipsky agreed to work on gathering women to compete at the show.
“I found 15 girls and after that show, when they realized they could compete against other girls, we talked about forming an association,” Shipsky said. “My phone started blowing up. Social media has really opened this up for us.”
Shipsky said the organization is hoping to continue to draw female competitors and potentially expand the locations of their circuit.
“We would love to have some shows further north,” she said. “The girls competing now are really digging it. They look forward to the shows and we hand pick the bulls for every show to make sure they are good,” Shipsky related. “We have so much fun. The girls don’t view each other as competitors, it’s a sisterhood.”
Shipsky and other long term competitors like Dee Dee Crawford from Texas, now in their 40s, are acting as mentors to younger competitors.
“I didn’t plan on getting back into riding bulls, but the younger gals said they wanted someone to show them, not just tell them how to ride. So I started getting back on and I was in the money, so I keep doing it,” Shipsky said.
Although women’s rough stock may seem like a sport that would be too daunting for most women, Shipsky said she knows otherwise.
“I don’t care where you are, I guarantee there is a girl in your state at a practice pen that is getting on bulls,” she said. “We want to connect with those gals.”
While the age and backgrounds of women roughstock riders may vary, one thing seems to be true for all the female athletes.
“Once you find something you love to do, and as a hard headed woman, no one is going to tell you not to do it,” Shipsky said.
Information on upcoming rodeos and membership of both the Women’s Bull Riding Organization and the Texas Bronc Rider’s Association can be found on Facebook.