Breaking away from the pack: South Dakota ladies catch success in Cheyenne
Sawyer Gilbert takes first ever breakaway championship, Carole Hollers breaks arena record
Two South Dakota breakaway ropers made history at the 2021 Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming. What’s more, remarkable athletes prove that one’s aspirations have no age limits.
During the slack on Wednesday, July 21st, Carole Hollers of Sturgis, South Dakota roped her calf in 3.4 seconds. She did not realize what she had done until two ropers later, when her traveling partners, Megan Steiger and CY Christensen embraced her in giddy hugs. “It was just thrilling. I had no idea. When I roped, I couldn’t hear them,” she said.
Hollers had broken the arena record. She will turn 60 years old in December, far past the average age of breakaway ropers currently competing. Yet, she is not concerned with her years but only with getting better. “One of the reasons I stay in it, and one of the things we tell our students is that I still think I can get better. I still think I can rope faster […] and that’s why I keep going,” she said.
She and Jerry Golliher have been hosting breakaway roping schools for 30 years. From a teacher’s perspective, she notes the progress the event has made in terms of horse flesh. “[The students] are mounted a thousand times better. They’re starting younger, but the biggest change that we’ve seen is the quality of the horses. Big horses and small horses. The big horses can still get in the ground. All of them are so athletic,” she says.
Unfortunately, Hollers’ record would only last one day, as Louisiana’s Josey Murphy broke it by .04 seconds during the Thursday performance with a 3.36, winning the second round.
Though she is no longer the record-holder, Hollers’ one breakaway run will have lasting effects. She said the most overwhelming experience was the feedback. People who were close to quitting because of their age, or because they were outsiders said that because of her, they decided to pick up a rope again. “To me, it was just a breakaway run,” she said. Hollers says that if she would have inspired five people to pursue something, it would have been worth it, but she inspired many more than that.
Speaking of making history, Sawyer Gilbert of Buffalo, South Dakota, is the first ever Cheyenne Frontier Days Breakaway Roping Champion with earnings that will count toward the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association standings, and likely the National Finals Breakaway Roping. In 2019, CFD held an unsanctioned breakaway roping event, where Jordan Jo Fabrizio was crowned champion. Coincidentally, Fabrizio and Gilbert are traveling partners.
Sawyer Gilbert, just 19 years old, made her splash on the professional breakaway roping scene as a 16-year-old competing in RFD-TV’s The AMERICAN in 2018. Age has no bearing on her experience or mental toughness, either. “I always set pretty high goals for myself, but I take it one calf at a time, one rodeo at a time. I don’t try to look too far into the future,” she says. “When I was picking up that saddle, I was looking at the buckle, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is Cheyenne.’ My dad and grandpa competed here and never came close to winning it, so this is unreal.”
Gilbert’s week was not without obstacles, as her good horse was seriously injured during the first round. “I ran her at slack and was a 4.8. That calf ran hard left and when it did, she crossed over and hit herself and ended up fracturing her splint bone. She’s going into surgery next week to get bone chips out.” She went home and tried her veteran paint horse, but could see that it was not going to be a fit for the Cheyenne setup. Luckily, her brother, Grey, offered his good calf horse. “Big Enough” went on a “crash course diet”after having some time off and he and Sawyer pulled a check at the pro rodeo in Burwell, Nebraska before going back to Cheyenne to finish out the week. Grey Gilbert placed fourth at the National High School Finals Rodeo just a couple of weeks prior, so the siblings had a profitable month of July.
Cheyenne Frontier Days is making history itself, being the first rodeo of its stature to pay out equal money in the breakaway roping. “They were one of the first ones to add [breakaway] and were a big booster to get it into the rest of them. And then to have equal money the next year was a big blessing. They are one of the rodeos that got breakaway to where it is now,” Gilbert says.
Gilbert is certainly reaping the benefits of an equal payout as her Final Round time of 4.4 was worth $12,175, and total winnings from CFD of over $17,000 should launch her from 19th to a projected 3rd place in the WPRA Breakaway standings, though payouts are not finalized at time of publication. Check TSLN.com for regular updates.
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Minot, N.D. (September 20, 2021) – Rodeo organizers have a fun weekend planned in Minot on October 8-10.