by Corinne J. Brown
photo by Dennis McIntire
In these tough times, plenty of folks will go out of their way for some solid entertainment, especially when it involves team roping, great riding, top horses and plenty of fun. Sounds like ranch rodeo, right? How about Women’s Ranch Rodeo, possibly the fastest growing sport in the mid-Western states in the last decade.
“It’s just gone crazy,” says Billie Franks, one of the founders of the Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association (WRRA), and an experienced competitor herself. “Different parts of the country have different demographics, and here in the tall grass country we have lots of cowgirls who know what they’re doing and can excel at this sport as well as anyone. They’ve really come out.”
The numbers of teams currently registered prove that the WRRA has tripled in size nationwide since Working Ranch magazine first wrote about them in 2008. Today, twenty-six all-women teams keep audiences cheering in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Nebraska. They’re working on Colorado and Alabama too. Unlike their PRCA sisters, who primarily compete in one specialized entry, women’s ranch rodeo contestants have to do it all, switching events, speeds, and specialized skills and doing it all with an equally capable and versatile mount.
WRRA contestants range in age from sixteen to sixty and although the women don’t ride broncs, they do cut and sort, head, heel and rope with the best of them. In fact, says Franks, “in the tie-down mugging, there’s some serious action going on. That, and other fast events, make our rodeos more than entertaining for the crowds.”
According to Mike Donnell (Donnell Rodeo Promotions), the WRRA publicist and sponsorship director, “the organization has grown from a weekend rodeo group in 2005 to a much more mature, competitive rodeo association with events in half-dozen states. We’ve expanded our contestant base, become more selective in qualifying the rodeos we sanction, and we broadened our geographic reach. Our 2011 schedule includes rodeos in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.”
Donnell is proud of the fact that new sponsors in areas like Western fashion and horse nutrition are now on board, an indication of the organization’s hard-won respect. Perhaps the most significant development to date, however, has been the decision by the Coors Cowboy Club in Amarillo to produce the WRRA World Finals there, a solid confirmation of the women’s reliability, professionalism and dedication to high quality competition and entertainment value.
The invitation came just in time, since the WRRA outgrew their first venue in Kansas City, then one in Wichita, and their last one in Lyons, Kansas, all in a few short years. This year’s finals event, scheduled for October 13 -15, 2011, will be held at the Amarillo National Center at the Tri-State Fairgrounds, a site that can handle large bookings. All the costs except awards fees are being picked up by the Club, a prestigious philanthropic organization with over 200 members in various professions from Texas and beyond, founded in the year 2000 by Peter Coors,
“We’ve had women’s events in our own Amarillo rodeo in the past,” said Chris Reed, spokesperson for the Club. “So often, we felt that women just didn’t get their due. We wanted to create something that would help make them shine. Beyond just hosting a women’s ranch rodeo, we found that the WRRA was ready to go to the next level and so were we. So we created a partnership, one that helps them and the city of Amarillo grow. Our Club is covering all the costs of the event facilities, welcoming them with a prime rib dinner and providing necessary volunteer labor and livestock.”
The video of last year’s Finals was telecast online on Spurradio.com and then archived. So far it’s had almost 1,500 hours of viewing. “Yet” according to Billie Franks, “the word has barely gotten out.”
It just seems natural to watch these all-women teams succeed and edge up on the male competitors who have prevailed until now. Like I’ve always said, “real cowgirls can do everything cowboys can-they just look better doing it.”