Striking Gold: South Dakota cowgirl wins National Finals Breakaway Roping
There’s not a lot that rattles Sawyer Gilbert, and because of her consistency, the Buffalo, S.D. woman is the 2021 WPRA World Champion Breakaway Roper.
She was the only cowgirl in the field of fifteen ropers that roped all ten head at the event, held at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas Dec. 6-7.
Shelby Boisjoli, Stephenville, Texas, entered the NFBR in first place and held that spot till round eight, when she had a no-time, letting Gilbert slip past her to lead the average. Gilbert won not only the world but the average as well (46.3 seconds on ten head.)
“That is one of my strengths,” Gilbert told the WPRA, “as I can always catch. I told myself even if I broke a barrier, to get all ten roped and this means the world to me.”
Gilbert won the world with a margin of nearly $2,200 over Boisjoli.
For eight of the ten rounds, she rode her sorrel mare, Hollywood, and for rounds four and five, she rode her paint, Roger.
Hollywood “got pretty hot and reared out,” Gilbert said, “and I made the decision that she needed a minute to calm down.” Fourteen-year-old Roger got the call. “I wanted to get on Roger because it works better if you’re more jacked up. He’s a wired little animal and he works better under pressure.” Roger thrives on the crowd noise and the lights of a rodeo arena, and since he had carried Gilbert through most of the rodeo season, she wanted to ride him at the finals. “That paint horse has done a lot for me.”
The nineteen-year-old cowgirl, the daughter of Lloyd and Patty Gilbert, has been on some of rodeo’s biggest stages.
As a sixteen-year-old, she competed at the RFD-TV’s The American. This year, she won Cheyenne Frontier Days, Pendleton Round-up, placed second at Rodeo Salinas (Calif.), and won the Badlands Circuit Finals in October.
In her younger days, she won the National Junior High School Finals, placed second at the Jr. American, has won the Northwest Ranch Cowboy Association, and has twice won the South Dakota High School Rodeo Association breakaway title.
She hasn’t fully absorbed the reality of being the world champion breakaway roper.
“I don’t think it’s completely set in yet,” she said. “It’s pretty cool, some of the opportunities I’ve already gotten to do. Obviously, I’m on cloud nine and my confidence is really high.”
“I always set pretty high goals for myself,” she told the WPRA. “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.”
Her cool-as-a-cucumber mentality is an asset, especially in rodeos with short rounds like the NFBR. “That’s one of my favorite parts of roping,” she said. “There is no more pressure at a short round. Everyone wants to think it will be different, but it’s just the same as the runs you’ve already done. It’s just the last one of the roping.”
Gilbert placed in five rounds, splitting first place in the sixth round and winning fourth place once, fifth place twice, and sixth place once. Her total NFBR winnings are nearly $20,000.
She’s already making plans for the 2022 rodeo season. She has a new truck and is in search of a new trailer, and is putting together her string of horses.
Horses Hollywood and Roger will go with her, as will her brother Grey’s horse, Big Enough. Grey, a junior at Harding County High School, rides Big Enough for the tie-down roping and heeling, but when high school rodeo is over, Gilbert borrows him. She also has an up and coming young horse that will go in the trailer, too.
She hasn’t taken any time off.
She roped at a jackpot the evening after winning the world title. “Just walking into the building, the atmosphere feels like it’s changed. But at the end of the day, it’s still just me, and it’s still just what I want to do. I still have to do my job.”
Joey Painter Williams, a native of Harding County, did well at the NFBR, and had fun, too.
The Volborg, Montana woman won or tied for first place in three rounds, placed in two more, and finished fifth in the average (142.3 seconds on eight head.)
“It was pretty high pressure and intense,” she said, “but we had so much fun. We got on a roll and my horse worked well. She tried her heart out.”
Williams didn’t plan on rodeoing full time this year, but when she kept winning, she kept going.
“Honestly, it was a fairy tale year for me. I started going to circuit rodeos but as the year progressed I realized I had a chance to make (the Finals) so I entered more. It all worked out in my favor. We had so much fun this year.”
Because no average title was awarded during last year’s NFBR, Gilbert has the distinction of being the NFBR’s inaugural average champion.
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