“Contestants competing at the First Frontier Circuit Finals ProRodeo Breakaway Roping will not qualify through this Circuit Finals for advancement to the NFR Open. No money won will be used in the qualifications into the NFR Open.”
When the First Frontier Circuit Finals breakaway roping contestants received the ground rules for their 2021 WPRA Breakaway Roping Circuit Finals, that statement stuck out at the bottom of the ground rules and sent shockwaves through the Northeast breakaway circle.
The circuit boasted 28 ProRodeos offering breakaway roping—second only to Texas in rodeos offering the new-to-PRCA event—but was unable to offer a breakaway circuit finals at the same time, in the same location as its main circuit finals. That’s key to understand, because the same time, same location rule is what is keeping the First Frontier Circuit’s breakaway ropers from competing for the tens-of-thousands of dollars in payout at the 2022 NFR Open (what was previously called the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo) in Colorado Springs next July.
“As I was told, at the Circuit Finals meeting in 2020 held Greeley during the RNCFR, circuit presidents were told that, in order to encourage all the circuits to have the breakaway in their circuit finals, having breakaway at the same time, in the same location as their regular circuit finals was a necessary requirement of sending ladies to the NFR Open in 2022,” WPRA President Jimmie Munroe explained. “In the event they had it at so many circuit finals, they would be participating at the NFR Open (previously the Ram National Circuit Finals). The only way that they could send representatives to the National Circuit Finals was if they held the breakaway circuit finals in conjunction with the rodeo.”
So, to put it plainly: the PRCA asked that all circuits include the breakaway ropers in their circuit finals in an attempt to encourage inclusion of breakaway roping.
“If we allow them to qualify at a non-sanctioned breakaway event, then we should allow all breakaway competitions to just be in slack,” said Steve Rempelos, Chief Marketing Officer for the PRCA. “The PRCA has spent an inordinate amount of time and resources in order to promote and produce breakaway roping events. Everyone can just point to the PRCA and say if it weren’t because of our rules, we wouldn’t have this problem. If we’re trying to have these young women compete at these events on the very same dirt in front of the same crowd as the PRCA event. In any progressive change that you try to make, and especially in the Western industry, there are stair steps that go along. The fact that 11 of the 12 circuits figured out a way to have breakaway roping as part of their circuit finals, that’s a valid story… It’s easy to blame the PRCA and PRCA rules in one sliver of an entire library of ways that we have continually spent staff time and resources to the promotion of breakaway. We absolutely did make a rule that it needed to be a part of the circuit finals. Why did we make that rule? Because we think those young ladies should have the same opportunity to compete on the same dirt, shoulder to shoulder, with the barrel racers and the rest of the PRCA competition. About the time you start bending those rules because those girls worked hard that they should send girls to the NFR Open, but what’s to stop six other circuits running the breakaway in the slack then? We’re absolutely trying to provide the best showcase for these ladies.”
But, unfortunately for the ladies who rodeoed all year in the First Frontier Circuit, the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in the state’s capital of Harrisburg was absolutely unable to accommodate the addition of 12 more contestants, their trailers and their horses during the regular January dates of the First Frontier Circuit Finals. Those circuit finals are held during the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which is the largest indoor agricultural exposition under one roof in the nation.
To try to meet the PRCA’s requirements, the First Frontier Circuit board bought contestant jackets, added $3,000 to the breakaway circuit finals (in addition to another $1,000 added by the WPRA) and are holding them in the same building at the PA Farm Show Complex as the regular circuit finals. It’s even in front of a live crowd—just during an open bull riding instead of the PRCA rodeo.
“We had asked that the PRCA should consider that the circuit board is supporting it,” Jolee Jordan, the WPRA’s roping director, said. “That’s the whole point—to involve the circuits. There was a lot of conversation back and forth. But the PRCA wanted to stick to what they said from the beginning: that they weren’t going to recognize it if it wasn’t held at the same time, at the same place as the PRCA’s Circuit Finals.”
The Mountain States Circuit in Colorado and Wyoming was up against the same problem, when, at the last minute, their board was able to get it added at 7 a.m. at the Ranch Complex on the Saturday of the circuit finals to make their contestants eligible.
“The PRCA just thought they could not make an exception because they’d already told all the circuit finals presidents,” Munroe said. “They felt that there were circuits who had the circuit finals breakaway with the rodeo just because of that rule. The PRCA really felt bad over it. They just felt like a lot of these circuits had done what they’d told them to do, and they didn’t feel like they could make an exception. But with that said, all the circuits with the exception of the Southeastern have had breakaway with their circuit finals—even the Maple Leaf Circuit. So the response to breakaway as a whole has been overwhelming. We all just hated this because they really made an effort to have a finals. It was solely stalls and parking, and they did all they could and supported it every way they could.”
For the First Frontier Circuit breakaway ropers, this news comes as a late disappointment in a year that saw them entering across the broad Northeast, from Maryland and Delaware to Maine and Connecticut and everywhere in between, at rodeos that paid half that of most circuit’s added money.
“We’re starting to be recognized as ‘equals’ in the rodeo world, but we finally get a chance to compete in our circuit on a pro level, only get knocked down again,” said Pennsylvania’s DeNiess Kilgus, who went to 12 rodeos and won $1,111 to sit eighth in the circuit going into the finals. “When I started roping, breakaway roping had $50 added money. Now we finally get to compete in our circuit on a professional level, with good added money, only to have the rug pulled out from under us. It’s crazy that breakaway roping has come so far. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t compete at the Open NFR like the other events. Basically, they are saying, “buy your membership, support your circuit, have a finals, but, oh wait a minute, we won’t support you all the way through.”
Everyone involved is optimistic that, with circuit support and more lead time, the issue will be resolved in time for the 2022 circuit finals.
“Is it a bummer? Of course, but I’m not throwing my rope in the dirt over it. We have way more people fighting for us than against us, so if we keep grinding and proving that we deserve a seat at the table, eventually we’ll get there,” said Pennsylvania’s Casey Allen, who enters the First Frontier Circuit Finals fourth in the standings with $2,565 and will also compete at the First Frontier Circuit Finals in the barrel racing.