Within the sport of rodeo, as with almost anywhere in society, there are phenomena that come and go. We’ve seen everything from Dean Oliver’s baby blue Wranglers to a wave of Brazilian bull ropes sweep through the field, along with a few other things that we either don’t admit to or simply don’t want to remember. (When will barrelmen be allowed to not dance, and we can call that a historical trend?) It’s life. It’s humankind. It’s how we work.
There’s a new phenomenon that’s catching fire across the rodeo world, but it’s not one that seems to be cooling any time soon. The west seems to be catching on to the sport of breakaway roping in a big way. While rodeo is full of events that feature cowboys swinging ropes, breakaway sets itself apart for a few reasons, and it is these unique things that make it an awesome event for everyone involved.
The first thing that you’ll notice about breakaway roping is that it is a women’s event. This is a big deal, as rodeo’s women have typically only been given the opportunity to compete in the barrel racing. There have been exceptions over the years, for sure, but in our generation, the only notable event that has given western women a real opportunity at a high level of competition and money-earning potential has been chasing cans. Breakaway roping, though, opens up a whole new world for ladies who are handy not only with a horse but a rope as well. We all know that cowgirls are multi-talented, and can do far more than ride a horse fast. Breakaway is the event that proves it.
How does it work? It’s fairly simple, as are most rodeo events, when boiled down to their essence. The contestant ties her rope to her saddle horn with a piece of string, gets set in the timed-event box, and when her drawn calf is ready, she nods her head. The chute holding the calf is then opened, and once given its head-start, the contestant chases it and throws her rope in an attempt to catch it. The fastest contestant to catch cleanly wins.
Is it really that simple, though? Yes and no. As with any timed event, there are barrier rules, and only certain types of catches are allowed. In it’s most simplified form, though, it really is a sport of speed and precision like almost no other. It is not unusual for ropers to catch under three seconds, and occasionally, under two. To make the visual effect of the string breaking, contestants will put a rag or bandana at the end of their rope, which pops into the air as the string tension snaps, and gives them the most accurate time. All in all, it’s an exciting couple of seconds of rodeo action, and there’s little wonder why it is becoming more popular.
Not long ago, breakaway was not frequently found on the rodeo scene, relegated to a junior event that taught the basics of tie-down, or an “extra” on the bill. Thanks to local and amateur rodeo associations and committees who saw its inherent value, though, it has rapidly become a commonplace event across the west and keeps growing. Last year, the legendary Pendleton Round-Up added breakaway roping to its list of events, joining The American, and this Summer, it will also be a part of the Daddy Of ‘Em All itself — Cheyenne Frontier Days! Thanks to the WCRA and its associations across the country, breakaway is even getting time on network TV. This is coveted territory, for sure.
While mullets and the no-collar shirt thankfully left the scene some time ago, the sport of breakaway roping doesn’t seem to be headed away, and in fact, is only growing and growing. Jackpots and rodeos quickly fill with entries, and the speed and excitement of the event keep crowds paying attention throughout the section. I’d highly suggest embracing it — it’ll last a lot longer than your pocketless, striped Rockies jeans did.