Women’s Ranch Rodeo…..Long Live Our Cowgirl Ways!
I grew up idolizing cowgirls. I was lucky because I had a great role model to look up to….my mom, Lila Glade. My idol and I grew up on the same ranch in southeastern Montana north of the Yellowstone River smack dab between Little Sheep Mountain and Big Sheep Mountain. In truth, I don’t believe my mom aspired to be anything but a cowgirl/ranch woman. Don’t get me wrong, she went off and got a college education. She and her teammates even managed to capture the coveted Team Championship at the College National Finals Rodeo one of the years she was there! She enjoyed college, but deep inside I think she always knew her place was out on the range. She has always loved the outdoors and the animals associated with a cowgirl’s life: horses and cattle. My mom has always been a superior horsewoman and she definitely knows her cattle. She has had many accomplishments in her career as a cowgirl. I believe her greatest accomplishment was qualifying and competing in the National Finals Rodeo in 1976. She may argue with me a bit on this because she has other accomplishments to choose from, but I think it’s incredible! My mom roped a little bit, but not competitively. Growing up, I had some of the best barrel horses ever to compete on. How many nine year olds do you know who get to ride a horse that went to the NFR? Not many!
The fact is I enjoyed barrel racing a lot when I was younger, but as I grew older my dad started showing me the joys of what a lariat could do. I wasn’t a roper at a really young age like some kids are today. I didn’t actively start roping until I was 12 years old. There was just something about roping that go in my blood right away. I can thank my dad for passing on his athletic abilities to just pick stuff up. That’s how it was with me and roping….so barrel racing eventually went by the wayside. I did have a slight challenge along the way because I am left-handed. My dad never viewed it as a “handicap” and he never tried to change me. He always thought lefties had an advantage when it came to breakaway roping anyway…..no crossing over to worry about! I taught myself to tie goats right-handed and it worked out just fine. I managed to win 3 state championships in high school in goat tying, pole bending, and breakaway roping.
I went on to rodeo one season in college. I decided college really wasn’t for me so I went off to the big city to learn about the retail world. Fast forward, 13 years…..this is where my story picks back up. I moved back to Montana in the late fall of 2004. I met my soon-to-be-fiancé in early 2005 and within a few months we moved to southwestern South Dakota and started working on my folks’ ranch (my folks had sold their ranch in Montana in early 2000 and had relocated here). I was home….and boy, did it feel good! With the help of my folks, Shane and I went into the cattle business in the fall of 2005. With that part of my life lined out, I set my sights on getting back into the arena. As fate would have it, I suffered a bad injury on the fourth of July. I was at home in our arena roping on the gentlest horse on the place. It wasn’t good. I got bucked off and as it was happening I hyperextended my wrist on the swells of my saddle. I tore some ligaments in my left arm/wrist and cracked some bones. It took me years to get it to where I could use it effectively again. So, fast forward again to 2013….
I had been watching ranch rodeos for several years from the sidelines as my husband and his friends went and did their thing. I might mention that I had our son in 2008 so up until this point I was pretty content being the cheerleader and caretaker. However, something inside me started longing for my goal of roping and competing again. I had let my arm heal significantly and I felt I was “ready.” There is something about ranch rodeo that really appeals to me. Perhaps it is the team camaraderie, the events (tying down a steer looked awfully fun to me), the excitement and atmosphere of it all. Whatever it was, I was hooked….but I wasn’t ready to jump into it with the guys. I didn’t feel confident enough for that (yet).
2012 came around and one day I was on Facebook. Something about “Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association” came on the screen. I stopped what I was doing and decided to check it out. Holy cow! Here was an entire association dedicated to WOMEN in RANCH RODEO!! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I devoured what I could read there and then went on to dive into their website (www.womensranchrodeo.org). I read and read until there was nothing else to read.
In my reading, I found out that the WRRA was founded by Kansas cowgirls in 2005 and that each rodeo includes the same 5 timed events in each of their sanctioned rodeos. They are: Calf Branding, Doctoring, Sorting, Trailer Loading, and Tie Down/Mugging. Here’s what happens in each event:
Calf Branding – 3 Minute Time Limit. There is one roper, one brander, and two gals to hold the calves down. The roper goes in and snags a calf by one or both hind legs. She drags it out where one gal tails the calf down and the other has the rope. Once the rope is removed the brander is signaled. She runs over and “brands” the calf with a branding iron that has powder on it. Once the calf is “branded” it is let up and the roper goes back in for the second calf. Everything is repeated. Once the second calf is “branded” time is called.
Doctoring – 2 Minute Time Limit. All four team members start behind a line on their horses. Time starts when the first team member crosses the line. They take off after their steer that is on the other end of the arena. All four members are allowed to rope. The steer must be roped with a legal head catch within the first minute. The steer must be headed and heeled. Once this is achieved, one of the non-roping team mates jumps down and marks the steers face with chalk. Time is called.
Sorting – 3 Minute Time Limit. Cattle with numbers on them are located at the end of the arena behind a chalk line. Time starts when the first team member crosses the line. While riding towards the herd, three numbers are called out over the loud speaker. They are in order (4, 5, 6 or 10, 11, 12 – for example). These are the numbers/cattle that must be cut out of the herd and taken across the chalk line. Any team member can sort, but only one rider can be in the herd at a time. Once a critter is across the chalk line, it cannot come back across or it is a no time. Also, no wrong numbered animal may cross the line. Once all 3 critters are across the line, time is called.
Trailer Loading – 2 Minute Time Limit. Cattle with numbers on them will be located at the end of the arena behind a chalk line. Time starts when the first team member crosses the score line. Any team member can sort, but only one rider can be in the herd at a time. While riding towards the herd, the number of the steer to be sorted and loaded will be called out over the loud speaker. This steer must be cut out from the herd and taken across the line. The steer is then trailed to the trailer and loaded in the first compartment and the door is shut. One team member’s horse is then loaded in the second compartment. Once the door is shut and latched all team members must run to a designated spot near the judge. Once there, the judge calls for time.
Tie Down/Mugging – 3 Minute Time Limit. Steer will be let out at the opposite end of the arena. Team members start behind a chalk line. Time starts when the first team member crosses the line. Steer must be roped with a legal head catch in the first minute. No loop limit and all four team members are allowed to rope. Steer doesn’t have to be heeled; this is up to the teams’ discretion. After the steer is roped, he must be mugged and tied down by 3 legs. The three legs must be crossed. During the mugging process at least one team member must be in contact with rope or steer. All ropes must be off the steer and all team members must be clear of steer before calling for time. Time stops when one team member raises hands after the steer is tied down. Steer must stay tied for 6 seconds.
Things don’t get much more exciting than those 5 events! I have been asked why there aren’t women’s rough stock events. I don’t have a technical answer on that except to say that I’m glad there aren’t. My 40-year-old body can’t handle much crow-hopping let alone a bucking bronco! I will say that I have been told that the WRRA’s outlook on their rodeos and events is that they want to include everyone and not exclude anyone. Even gals who aren’t bona fide ropers can participate as there are events that don’t require every single team member to rope (calf branding, trailer loading, sorting). Women’s bronc riding is only for a few select women who like to do that sort of thing (hats off to them too). The WRRA wants to showcase actual ranch events that occur on most any ranch. They want to keep it as safe as possible for contestants and animals alike. That makes perfect sense to me.
Since the WRRA sanctions the rodeos, their rules are followed and the gals participating must become members before competing. Money can be won and points are accumulated towards their World Finals, which will be held this year in Loveland, Colorado in October. Imagine, a World Finals…..for Women…..in Ranch Rodeos!! I was so excited about this that I called the phone number listed on the WRRA’s website. Enter Billie Franks into my life. Billie is the Special Agent and Treasurer for the WRRA. She is quite a cowgirl and a determined leader of the association. We talked for quite a bit and struck up a friendship right then and there. With her encouragement and leadership, I decided that this was going to be “my thing.” Instantly it became my goal to get involved in this association and to hopefully host the first-ever WRRA rodeo in Nebraska.
I’m happy to report that I reached this goal last summer with the “Cowgirl Swank Classic” – Women’s Ranch Rodeo. I had a lot of help from some great people in the Crawford, Nebraska area. It’s a long story of how it all came to be so I won’t go into all of that. I will just say that with a positive attitude, hard work, and good people helping you…you can achieve most anything!
So, what went on at the “Cowgirl Swank Classic”? Let me tell you….it was 2 days of the most amazing cowgirl action I have ever seen or been a part of! Imagine 12 teams of 4 competitive cowgirls, 48 well-trained horses, 50 head of steers, 25 head of calves, and over 2 inches of rain…..it was nothing short of the most entertaining rodeo ever! We had spills and thrills.….my pants were so dirty after each rodeo that they could have stood up by themselves….and I’m not kidding! The crowd was super….I was so worried that the rain would keep people away, but just the opposite happened. Crawford has such an amazing arena setup. It allows vehicles to pull up near the grandstands so they can look down over the arena. It truly couldn’t have been more perfect. We are still hearing comments about what a wonderful rodeo it was and how spectators and contestants can’t wait for the next one!
Like me a lot of the contestants are mothers and wives. We have our children and our husbands supporting us. The best part at our rodeos though is that the husbands are the ones in the stands with the video cameras ready to go and the kids playing in the dirt at their feet. Turnabout is fair play! Rodeo and ranching is about partnership. We have done it for them….and will continue to do so in the future…now it’s their turn to repay the favor….and they do it willingly. All of the husband’s I have visited with are thrilled with the advancements we are making for this sport. They truly think it is great and applaud us. They are happy to see their wives out enjoying themselves and having fun while representing our way of life. We ladies appreciate all the support we get from our families so that we can have our turn in the arena. It’s our turn to shine!
The first-ever women’s ranch rodeo in Nebraska was deemed a huge success. 2014 is going to be a very exciting year for women’s ranch rodeo in the northern region! We are in the planning stages for our second “Cowgirl Swank Classic”, which is scheduled to take place on July 20th and 21st in Crawford, NE. Another wonderful occurrence is other people having the same idea I did. They have taken it upon themselves to promote this awesome association/sport and put on their own rodeos. Hyannis, Nebraska was second last year with a two-day rodeo in September. They are planning for the second “Cowgirl’s Duel in the Sandhills” to take place August 2nd and 3rd. Three newcomers to the WRRA are Gillette, Hermosa, and Cheyenne. Gillette, Wyoming will open the season with their two-day “Bucking H Bash” rodeo on May 31st and June 1st. Grand Island, Nebraska is looking at a possible date in September and Cheyenne, Wyoming is hosting a one-day rodeo on September 21st, which will close out the season for the northern division.
The great thing about how much interest has been generated in our area is that the ladies of the WRRA sat up and took notice. They are excited to have added us as their “northern division.” I was really glad to be voted onto their board of directors in December as was Mckenzie Minor from Hyannis, Nebraska. Together, we are pushing for even more expansion in the northern region in 2015. I envision additional rodeos taking place in Colorado, Montana, and hopefully North Dakota in the near future. With that said, if you are interested in hosting a WRRA rodeo in your area in 2015, please contact me. I would love to explain the process to you and answer any questions you may have. We are also searching for sponsors and people who want to get involved in this incredible association. Feel free to contact me at any time! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on my cell at 605-891-1827. I look forward to hearing from some of you and continuing to work to spread this great association as far as we can.
As I said at the beginning of this column, I have always idolized cowgirls. The best thing is that through my life I became one. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I revere my fellow cowgirls. We may come from different backgrounds or similar ones. We may “cowgirl” in different ways, but one thing is for sure: we are kindred spirits. We try hard and we don’t take no for an answer. We love our horses and our families. We are winners inside and outside the arena. Long live our cowgirl ways!