Pink and Ruby Buckle Changed Barrel Racing. Up Next? Ruby Buckle Breakaway.

Breakaway roping is turning into big business, and producers of all types are taking note. In April 2021, the Ruby Buckle Barrel Racing Futurity will invite breakaway ropers into the arena to compete on incentive-eligible horses for $110,000 in guaranteed payout.

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The Pink Buckle—a cooperative of stallion owners established in 2018 who produce a $2-million barrel racing event fueled by the program’s stallion enrollment fees and progeny nominations—is adding a $110,000-guaranteed breakaway roping to its spring Ruby Buckle Regional Event at the Lazy E Arena in 2021.

The move is skyrocketing demand for horses by the studs who can crossover into the breakaway market, turning heads in the breeding barns, drawing the attention of barrel-racers-turned-breakaway-ropers and giving the best breakaway ropers in the business a new goal to aim for. 

The Ruby Buckle team, a subsidiary of the Pink Buckle established in 2020, will host the event April 27 through May 1, 2021, adding $25,000 to a 2D Breakaway Futurity and $75,000 to the Women’s 3D Breakaway, plus $5,000 to a 14-and-Under Youth Boys Breakaway and $5,000 to a 14-and-Under Youth Girls Breakaway. The only horses eligible to compete are those by the largely running-bred Pink Buckle and Ruby Buckle Stallions. Each ‘D’ pays out equally ($25,000 per ‘D’), so it is for ropers of all skill levels.

The Pink Buckle program includes 50 elite studs, enrolled annually. Its subsidiary, the Ruby Buckle, includes 150 studs (including the 50 Pink Buckle studs). The Ruby Buckle produced three regional barrel races with a payout of over $1.6 Million in 2020 alone. Funded by stallion owner enrollments and progeny nominations, it is set up with a lower enrollment fee per stallion but a higher number of stallions involved.

“We want to always do our best to serve the stallion owners who make up our rosters,” Maesa Kummer, Pink Buckle representative, said. “Any time we can help them sell more breedings across different markets, that’s a benefit to their programs and is the goal of the Pink and Ruby Buckles. Breakaway is a good fit for what we’re trying to accomplish. The Pink and Ruby Buckle stallions have the ability to sire exceptional horses that will work well in multiple events. And the Breakaway Roping will help us demonstrate and reward this. Not every horse wants to be a barrel horse, and this another way for the horse to have a job that makes them and their owners very happy.” 

How the Pink Buckle and Ruby Buckle Breakaway Works

Both the Pink and Ruby Buckle programs are funded by annual enrollments from stallion owners as well as a $200 annual nomination fee that owners of each horse must pay for their horses to be eligible to compete.

New for 2021, horses who’ve never before been nominated to the Pink Buckle can nominate for the breakaway only in 2021. These horses will be allowed to compete in breakaway only for as long as they continue to be nominated.

“Since we just added the breakaway event, we don’t want to exclude horses that weren’t nominated previously and who want the opportunity to rope,” Kummer, who ropes and runs barrels from her family’s home in Briggsdale, Colorado, said.

The Pink Buckle will aim its breakaway at all skill levels, with the expectation that a majority of the events entries will come from the non-pros, similar to the barrel race itself. 

“We have the ‘D’ system set up to include ropers and horses of all skill levels,” Kummer explained. “Even if you’re not a 2.2-second roper, you will have the same opportunity to win professional-level money— as long as you catch. It will be like our barrel race format—two go’s and an average. We will make sure we have the right set up for our contestants. A lot of people involved are really savvy about that side of it. The score will be dependent on the way we set it up at the Lazy E and which arena we use. We want to showcase the horses and give everyone a chance with a great set of calves. When you have to score and track them down the pen a little ways to get them roped, you’ll see the horses ability better. We want to see them score, run hard and stop.”

Industry Response

Classic Equine jumped on board early as a sponsor, and Chief Marketing Office Billie Bray said that was an easy choice. 

“The saying for the Pink Buckle and Ruby Buckle is that it’s the most disruptive thing in the barrel racing world,” Bray said. “And I mean disruptive in a good way. It’s done a lot for the value of horses, and they came with the idea of making it bigger and better for breakaway. It’s leading the way for the industry. We’re extremely excited to be a part of it. They’re progressive-minded, and they give a lot back to the industry. We need to be a part of it. It’s amazing what they’ve done. They made their own rules. They look at it as a big picture, too. I respect the fact that they give everybody a fair chance at money. I appreciate the top in all disciplines, but everybody can win a lot of money. That’s what makes our sport grow. That’s why team roping is as big as it is.”

Barrel racers who spend their lives in the horse industry but haven’t had a chance to focus on their roping are coming out of the woodwork to jump back into breakaway, Bray noted, adding another element of excitement to the event. 

Alyssa Bigon, a barrel racer who ranches and trains horses for a living, is one of those ladies.  

“I have a Pink and Ruby Buckle eligible colt by Blazin Jet Olena,” Bigon, of Woodward, Oklahoma, said. “He’ll be 7 never year, and he’s an open horse I run barrels on. But I daywork on him too, and he’s a handy, all-around honest horse. Since they announced they’re adding the breakaway to the Pink Buckle, we’ve been working toward more structured roping on him.”

While entries have yet to open for the Spring 2021 event, Pink Buckle/Ruby Buckle crew posted on Facebook August 13 asking contestants to chime in if they planned to have a horse ready for the futurity or Open breakaway. Some 68 responded affirmatively. 

Breeders’ Excitement

Reliance Ranches—owned by the McKinney family, who also own the Lazy E Arena—have multiple stallions enrolled in the Pink Buckle and Ruby Buckle Program, and World Champions Rodeo Alliance President Bobby Mote, of Llano, Texas, is riding some of their breakaway prospects in preparation for the Ruby Buckle. 

“I think it will cause people to look for the diversity in these running bred horses and diversify the stallions that they have,” Mote said. “Breakaway roping continues to grow and open opportunities for ropers, but the sport also helps people who raise and train and breed high-level horses. I’m really excited about where the horse industry is heading.”

Irish Pay, a 2004 bay stallion by Paddys Irish Whiskey out of the Preferred Pay mare Raise The Pay, is poised to stand out with the addition of breakaway to the Pink and Ruby Buckle, owner Lainee Sampson of Interior, South Dakota, said. 

“We’ve already seen good feedback and positivity,” Sampson said. “We’ve seen an increase in breedings and people looking for prospects, too. Irish Pay is known for his versatility, and we have everything from race-bred to cow-bred broodmares.”

This year the 5-State Breeder’s Futurity added breakaway roping, and an Irish Pay-sired horse won every round and the average, Sampson said, adding to the Sampson family’s enthusiasm for the addition of breakaway to the Ruby Buckle in spring 2021.

“I think you’ll start seeing a lot more of these horses giving people a chance to haul one horse to the rodeos and be really competitive in the barrel racing and breakaway,” Sampson said.

Big Guns 

While organizers are careful to point out that the breakaway at the Ruby Buckle is intended for all levels of competitors, the best in the breakaway business are excited to test their luck on young horses in the new format. 

“I’m really thrilled that they’re giving us the opportunity to showcase this kind of horse, at this level,” WPRA World Champion Lari Dee Guy, of Abilene, Texas, said. “I’ve got the goal of having one ready by April for the futurity, and that’s been in the works since they announced they were having it. It quickly became a priority for us, and it’s events like this and breeders like this that will continue to help push the industry forward.” 

She’s not alone. Stephenville, Texas cowgirl Jackie Crawford, a former World Champions Rodeo Alliance major event winner and many-time WPRA title winner, plans to ride her 2014 bay gelding Peppin Up My Step, by Ruby Buckle stallion Prime Talent out of the Hickory’s Indian Pep mare La Peppy Pep—the same horse she rode at RFD-TV’s The American. 

“This event is awesome for the industry,” Crawford said. “Any time you can put that much money up and have an incentive for the way the horse is bred is good for the horse industry and good for the breakaway industry.” BRJ

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