ProRodeo breakaway ropers are vying for a spot at the National Finals Breakaway Roping in 2022 in Las Vegas at the South Point—with mixed feelings about the change.

Top breakaway ropers were zig-zagging across the country to rodeos from Texas and Arkansas to Oklahoma and Colorado when they got the news that the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association announced May 2 that the 2022 National Finals Breakaway Roping will move to the South Point Equestrian Center Nov. 29-30.

The event will add $250,000 to the top 15, giving the ladies a chance to showcase their abilities and their event during the PRCA Convention in front of the sport’s fans, and perhaps more importantly, rodeo committees from across the country in Vegas for the Convention, in the South Point Arena.

Breakaway Ropers Cautiously Optimistic On National Finals Breakaway Roping Move To South Point For 2022
Gilbert receives her 2021 NFBR Average Championship saddle and buckle alongside the PRCA President Tom Glause and WPRA President Jimmie Munroe. | Photo by Jamie Arviso

Rodeo Committee Showcase Opportunity

“Getting in front of the committees will allow us to meet people, to better our careers and see the people in the background who’ve done so much for us,” reigning World Champion Sawyer Gilbert said. “A very important thing that all competitors have to understand as that side of it is so different. I’ve been lucky enough to be associated with the committee side of it. There are so many minor details you might over look, and it’s so important for us to talk to the committees and understand their challenges.”

“I hope fans as well as the committees come out to enjoy it,” Jackie Crawford, the 2020 World Champ, said. “If the committees can see how much the fans love and support breakaway, it will be a great step to add our event to their rodeos.”

National Finals Breakaway Roping Announcement Timing

The PRCA announcement—made via email and social media—is the earliest the association has come to an agreement with Las Vegas and the WPRA in the last three years, letting the ladies know for the first time ahead of the summer run what their end goal will be.

“Kudos to the WPRA and PRCA to allowing girls to know what they’re running for,” Crawford said. “As great as rodeoing has been—there’s a group of us that no matter what, if they were having the Finals in our backyard, we’d still go. But for other girls, with other goals, it’s great that now they know what they’re actually gunning for at the end of the year.”

Nfbr 2021 Insights
Crawford receiving her 2020 WPRA World Championship Gold Buckle in Arlington, Texas. | PRCA ProRodeo Photo by Joe Duty

Improved National Finals Breakaway Roping Schedule

With the 2021 NFBR held Dec. 6-7 at The Orleans in Las Vegas, the top ladies in the sport were unable to hit all of the major jackpots held during that time all across the city. But in 2022, with the event happening before the actual Finals start in the Thomas & Mack, they should be able to jackpot during the 10 days of the Finals at places like The Masters, the All-In Breakaway and the Rope for the Crown. Not to mention, many ladies—like Crawford, Hope Thompson, Lari Dee Guy and Shelby Boisjoli—could also be able to make the nearly $14-million Ariat World Series of Team Roping work.

“It’s so new—I need the time to process it,” Crawford said. “Immediately I wish it were the same as the NFR, but now if we’re not roping at the NFR, we can still do the WSTR and the other ropings happening. The NFBR won’t keep us from all the great things, and chances to rope for money, surrounding the NFR.” 

Improved National Finals of Breakaway Roping Experience

The 2020 NFBR was a 10-head average followed by an eight-woman semifinals and a four-woman finals. In 2021, at the prodding of ropers and fans, the WPRA and PRCA made the NFBR a straight 10-calf average, a format that will remain for 2022.

“I think that being at the South Point, with anything that can involve Paula and Michael Gaughan in rodeo is a plus,” Guy added. “There’s so much to do at the South Point, that the fans that make it there will really enjoy the whole experience. And the South Point is second-to-none in Las Vegas as far as the quality of the accommodations, for us and our horses. I’m grateful the Gaughans wanted to be a part of the NFBR experience.”

Plus, the breakaway ropers have the potential to be part of the National Finals Rodeo back-number ceremony held at the South Point the day before the Finals start—further incorporating them into the fold alongside the rest of the ProRodeo contestants.

“People will see us get our back numbers, and then they’ll expect to see us rope in the Thomas & Mack,” Boisjoli said. “But they won’t, and then they could wonder what the heck. I think it will be good for fans to think about that more, and it could bring more attention and support for the breakaway.”

National Finals Breakaway Roping Added Money

The $250,000 is $50,000 more than was added in 2021, with the chance that the payout could increase for the ladies as more sponsors step up throughout the year.

“The prize money is great, and it’s awesome the purse is going up,” Crawford said. “But the fact that they’re leaving it open to interest from more sponsors is a big deal. We want to help make more money a possibility.”

Breakaway Ropers Cautiously Optimistic On National Finals Breakaway Roping Move To South Point For 2022
Ultimately, breakaway ropers and fans are looking forward to the day that they compete for 10 days alongside the rest of the top 15 in every other event at the Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas. | Jamie Arviso Photo

The End Game

For nine-time WPRA World Champion Guy, who has been a vocal advocate for women in the sport of rodeo for decades, this is a step in the right direction but not the end goal.

“Fundamentally, the vast majority of fans want to see the breakaway roping at the NFR in the Thomas & Mack,” Guy said. “Breakaway ropers as a whole need to be working toward bringing new sponsorship to our event, and we understand there is a lot involved in getting it to the Thomas & Mack. There’s not just one thing that holds it back—negotiations between the WPRA and PRCA, the NFRC, Las Vegas Events, sponsorship money. We need to bring newsponsors in, and we need to help come up with the money there.”

In a panel at the Las Vegas Convention Center in 2021, WPRA President Jimmie Munroe outlined some of the issues holding the breakaway ropers back from an actual shot at 10 rounds over 10 days in the Thomas & Mack.

“There are a lot of logistics,” Munroe said. “There’s the sponsors. This doesn’t sound that important, but it is: You’ve got to have 15 stalls, 15 more places for a trailer. When to do it, the time to do it. But it’s coming. It’s going to happen, but those are things we’ve got to work out, with sponsors and timing.”

Breakaway ropers continue to out-enter nearly every other event in ProRodeo at all the rodeos they can, and the list of those rodeos adding breakaway will top 300 this year—up from 50 in 2020.

“Ultimately, we all need to be aware of all of the issues preventing us from being in the Thomas & Mack and be working toward resolving them on the fastest possible timeline in order for the sport to continue to grow and thrive and to keep the grassroots passion and excitement going,” Guy said. “If we know the steps that need to happen to get us there, we will do our best to accommodate. I feel that ProRodeo is needing another women’s event, and we’re here. We’re ready. And we don’t want to financially break all the girls in the process before we even get a shot to do it. We’re appreciative of the money that we’re given, but it’s something that we are really struggling with because fuel is $7 a gallon in California and $5 and $6 a gallon in the rest of the country. We want to support the rodeos and the committees, but it costs so much money. There are so few who can afford to rodeo right now. And the ones who can do it are business-minded enough that they can only lose money for so long before they’re done losing money.”

Plenty of ProRodeo cowboys have come out in support of breakaway ropers over the years, including World Champion Shane Hanchey. Hanchey is the PRCA’s tie-down roping director, and his wife, Taylor, qualified for the NFBR last year—the first NFR barrel racer to also make it in the breakaway.

“Being a director for the tie-down, I know what all goes into the production side of the NFR at the Thomas & Mack and how complicated it is,” Hanchey said. “I also know that there’s not going to be any chance of it being included in the perf at the Thomas & Mack under this contract. But do I think it’s unfair? Yes. But I also understand both sides of the argument.”