Breakaway ropers break ground in Fort Worth
It was a groundbreaking year at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. Not only did the host committee unveil the brand new Dickies Arena, they also rolled out the carpet on an event new to their rodeo: breakaway roping.
Breakaway roping has gained exponential popularity, with 2019 being “The Year of Breakaway.” It has been featured in several large-scale productions, such as The American and Cheyenne Frontier Days. Fort Worth was another step in the direction of universality breakaway in professional rodeo.
“That’s what a lot of the breakaway ropers have been building towards is to be on that equal playing field with all those guys,” said Tanegai Zilverberg.
Zilverberg, of Holabird, South Dakota, roped her way to the short round in that historic time and place.
The tournament style made for intense competition throughout. The field began with seven brackets, each with eight ropers. Every girl roped two calves. The top two money-earners from each bracket came back for a semifinals. The top four from each semifinals group earned the chance to rope in the finals round. A wild card round advanced two more competitors. The top four in the finals were given cash prizes, first place paying $20,000.
Cassie Bahe of Grantsville, Utah claimed the top prize after roping her final calf in 2.3 seconds. However, the current arena record is held by Tanegai Zilverberg with the 1.9 second run she made in one of her bracket rounds.
“I like the tournament style in the sense that every time you backed in the corner, it was a one-run rodeo. Whoever came up with the most money was the one that got to move on, so that was pretty unique. It definitely made the girls rope up,” she said.
Zilverberg “roped up,” saving her name in the history books for at least one more year with her record-setting run. “My plan that night was just to back in the corner and take two swings and rope it, just like I always do. I drew the right calf and everything fell into place for me. It worked out well.”
Zilverberg credits her family for their support. Her mother made a special trip to deliver Tanegai’s good horse, Snipper, while her father made several trips from South Dakota to Texas to care for the ranch at home and support Tanegai on a big stage. “Dad is definitely my comfort zone whenever I back into a box at some place like that,” she said.
On a familial note, the breakaway roping event seemed to be a story of sisters. The champion, Cassie Bahe, was joined in the short round by her younger sister, Anna. Rickie and Taylor Engesser of Spearfish, South Dakota both had a good showing throughout Fort Worth, with Rickie advancing to the Wild Card Round. Jessica (Painter) Holmes and Joey (Painter) Williams, originally from Buffalo, South Dakota, showed their prowess, as well. Holmes roped a leg in the semifinals to prevent her from advancing to the final round.
Other area ropers included Brandi Guttormson-White of Hazen, North Dakota and Shai Schafer, originally of Torrington, Wyoming. White made the semifinals. Schafer won her semifinals pool and advanced to the final round, where a broken barrier ended her impressive tournament streak.
In a bracket round, White, both Engesser girls, Zilverberg, and Jenny Belkham of Blunt, South Dakota all roped against one another. “I definitely feel as though our rounds were some of the toughest rounds. Our girls roped fantastic. The northern girls definitely put on a show down there,” Zilverberg said.
With breakaway roping’s rapid growth, it is entirely plausible that female ropers could make a career out of their event, no different than any other Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event. Zilverberg hopes for this future: “That’s the plan. I’m hoping I can keep going and win enough to rodeo full time. Also, train some horses and have to find ways to make some money, but I definitely feel as though this could be a big opportunity and a job for quite a few years,” she said.
Zilverberg is currently living in Arizona in order to rope year-round. Her next big roping event is The American preliminary rounds, as well as any professional rodeos that add breakaway roping to their productions. Until the event becomes more mainstream, it can be difficult to plan for. “They kind of just advertise their rodeos and say, ‘Hey, we’re having breakaway.’ So, until there’s a set schedule, we can’t really say where and when we’ll be, which is difficult. I do think more of the rodeos are going to have it, especially down here,” she said.
Most professional rodeos will be Women’s Professional Rodeo Association-affiliated in the future, if they add breakaway, according to Zilverberg. “They have two different WPRA cards. There’s a pro card and a regular card. So there’s two different standings now. You have to have your procard to go to the pro rodeos,” she said.
“Anyone who is breakawaying right now is definitely a part of making that history. I think we’re all pretty lucky they’re giving us this opportunity. It’s pretty cool to be experiencing some of the things the PRCA guys have experienced for so long,” Zilverberg said.
Other finalists at FWSSR include:
Lisa Lockhart; Oelrichs, SD – 1st
Brittney Barnett; Joliet, MT – 3rd
Brittney Barnett; Joliet, MT – 4th
Cole Reiner; Kaycee, WY – 1st
Ty Erickson; Helena, MT – 4th
Ty Erickson; Helena, MT – 2nd
Kal Fuller (Partner Reagan Ward); Bozeman, MT – 2nd
Kal Fuller (Partner Reagan Ward); Bozeman, MT – 3rd