They are the ladies who loop.
Women’s breakaway roping will be presented Tuesday for the first time at the Fort Worth Stock Show this year in conjunction with the Cowboy Publishing Timed Event Challenge in the Justin Arena.
The Women’s Invitational Breakaway Roping competition will feature 50 of the top riders in the sport from around the country. Breakaway roping which requires a female roper to catch a calf, but not tie it down like the cowboys do at the rodeo.
“The rope is tied to the saddle horn with just a piece of nylon string,” explained Lari Dee Guy, a top roper from Abilene who will be competing.
If the cowgirl ropes the calf, the rope pulls away and breaks the string holding it to the saddle horn.
“We usually tie a brightly colored little flag to the end of our rope so [the judges] are able to see that and are able to drop the flag” indicating the stoppage of time, Guy said.
And when you are watching these top cowgirls, don’t blink during their run or you will miss it.
“Our time in the breakaway will sometimes be about 2 seconds,” Guy said.
Compare that against the winning time of 10.1 seconds in the Stock Show’s PRCA rodeo roping competition on Sunday night. Even factoring in that the men have to tie down their calves, the women’s numbers are pretty dazzling.
“We have always featured the top [male] calf ropers in our regular timed event challenge competition because there is so much prize money there. We thought [women’s breakaway] would be an interesting twist — and something new — to bring to the show. And the girls are really good ropers,” said Bruce E. McCarty, horse show manager at the Stock Show.
The 50 invited female ropers will all compete after the men’s competition that begins at 9 a.m. in Justin Arena, McCarty said. Then the top 10 women from that first round will return to compete as part of the 6 p.m. session there.
Nearly all the rules are the same in men’s and women’s roping, McCarty and Guy said. For example, if a comptetitor and horse “break the barrier” (which means leaving the chute before the calf leaves his), it results in a 10-second penalty that is as good as a disqualification in most cases, given how low the winning times usually are.
To an outsider, women’s breakaway roping seems to still be taking shape as a widely practiced rodeo or stand-alone competition.
“I think I bought cards in three different organizations to compete last year,” Guy said, indicating a sport in its formative stages, when competitors have to scramble a bit to find shows.
But plenty of evidence also suggests that breakaway roping has a strong and growing base of involvement.
“Most of the rodeos we go to, we’re one of the top entered events,” Guy said.
Also, the sport is already developing some stars, and Guy appears to be one. She is a five-time Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world champion (including two breakaway championships) and is highly active in training the champions of tomorrow.
“I’ve roped since I was very little,” said Guy, who was born into a rodeo family and grew up in the saddle. “I’ve taught roping all over the country and all over the world, including places like Australia and Sweden.”
And her students are as likely to be male as female.
“Somebody who wants to be a good roper doesn’t care if they are being trained by a man or a woman. They just want somebody good,” she said.
The sport isn’t easy.
“It’s a hard task. It’s difficult to rope whether you have to get off and tie one or not,” McCarty said.