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Cowgirls Rising

The Western World has always included colorful cowgirls.  However, there has truly been just one event in the sport of Professional Rodeo suited for women. That event, of course, has historically been Ladies Barrel Racing.

A Brief History of Women In Rodeo

I’ve always been a fan of the women who are widely considered the “greats” or “pioneers” of the rodeo arena. A few come to mind:

  • Fanny Sperry Steele (American Bronc Rider/Performer)
  • Ruth Roach (Professional Bronc Rider/World Champion Rodeo Performer)
  • Mabel Strickland Woodward (Hall of Fame Rodeo Performer)
  • Sammy Thurman (Barrel Racing Champion/Rodeo Performer/Movie Stunt Rider)
  • Prairie Rose Henderson (First Female Bronc Rider)

And other women of the western and rodeo lifestyle who’ve directly influenced my early life are:

  • Brownie Smith (Montana Rancher, former Bronc Rider)
  • Floydena Garrison (Montana Rancher, Horsewoman, Trainer, Breeder)
  • Suzie Montero (Nevada Rancher, Horsewoman, Trainer)
  • Vicki Christensen (Oregon Rancher, Rodeo Personality/Producer, Professional Trick Rider)
  • Charlotte Priddy (Montana Rancher, Rodeo Competitor)
  • Becky Fuchs Mahoney (WPRA All-Around Champ, Clinician, Trainer, Coach)
  • and last, but not least – Virginia (Jinx) Grazier (my grandmother – Montana Rancher, Horsewoman)

Virginia (Jinx) Grazier, the Author’s grandmother, Montana Rancher and Horsewoman.

Rodeo has always allowed – and even encouraged women to try their hand at whatever event they desired to. After all, women could draw an audience and “put butts in seats”. Cowgirls currently compete alongside men in Team Roping.

However, on a professional level – a level at which such prestigious rodeos as Pendleton, Denver, etc exist – there has been just the one gender-specific event of Barrel Racing.

It has shared an equal part of the prize money. However, men compete for money in seven other events, five of which have been specifically suited for the male athlete (Bareback Riding, Bronc Riding, Bull Riding, Steer Wrestling, and Tie-Down Roping).

Prairie Rose Henderson

It was 1901 when Prairie Rose Henderson debuted at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo as a Bronc Rider; and by 1920, rough stock events, relay races, and trick riding were all the rage for other daring, free-flying women.

By 1928, Barrel Racing became the first Professional Sport for women on horseback.

As early as August of 2013, promoters began a push for Ladies Breakaway Roping to turn Pro.

In September of 2017, a group of lady Breakaway Ropers made history as they competed at the famous Pendleton Roundup ProRodeo.

Charlotte Priddy, circa 1970’s goat tying (right) at amateur rodeos

For years, there have been female competitors in goat tying, pole bending, team roping, steer/cow riding, cutting and breakaway roping at Little Britches, Junior High School, High School, College and amateur rodeo events.

Charlotte Priddy, circa 1970’s, steer riding

Cowgirls Rising

At the 2019 “The American“, Breakaway Roping made its debut. And it didn’t disappoint. Sixteen-year-old Madison Outhier won a record $100,000 – beating out hundreds of other ropers throughout the competition – busting the gates wide open for all the other girls who were ready and waiting to start competing on a professional level. That win meant so much, on so many levels.

“Adding a second event means a whole lot to me and my circle.”

-Lari Dee Guy, World Champion Team Roper/Clinician/Breakaway Roper (Excerpt is taken from the 2020 International Women’s Day WCRA video)

Becky Fuchs Mahoney, World Champion, Clinician, Trainer, and Coach has seen a rise in interest to attend her clinics.

Rope and tack sales, horse sales, horse training and clinicians, truck and trailer sales, jackpot ropings, special events, and new arenas built and managed by women, are just some of the areas that have recently surged.

Breakaway events with large payouts: The “Feather S Invitational” in Pawhuska, Oklahoma (April) has drawn world champions such as Lari Dee Guy, Hope Thompson, and Jackie Crawford to compete; as well as the “Rope For The Crown” event – Las Vegas – in December.

The addition of Breakaway Roping in the Professional world of Rodeo has certainly been something women were ready for.

Ladies (and Gentlemen) – Cowgirls are Rising!

CLN Community & Event Sponsor

Born and raised on a cattle ranch on the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana, Eileen graduated from University of Montana - Western with a Business Degree. She is the mother of two grown children - Sydnee, and Billy Quade; and grandmother of two, Lillian and Rocky Rex. Eileen draws from personal, life experiences; as she has held many positions over the years including heavy equipment operator, member of a survey crew for Independence Mining, veterinary technician, Bud Girl for Anheuser-Busch, PR Director for the Idaho Cowboys Association, feed manager for Midland Bull Test Station in Columbus, Montana, National Event Coordinator for Montana Silversmiths, security guard for the Muskogee Creek Nation One Fire Casino, Marketing Director for the Tulsa RV Ranch, and freelance writer for various publications - including a weekly column for three years in the "Elko Daily Free Press" in Elko, Nevada. She enjoys training barrel horses and singing - and has sung the National Anthem for rodeos such as the Reno Rodeo in Reno, Nevada, the College National Finals, and the New Year's Eve Bull Bash in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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