Heather McLaughlin of Bunnell, Florida, dominated the first-ever breakaway roping finals event held in conjunction with the Southeastern Circuit Finals Rodeo in Davie, Florida, Nov. 11–13, taking home a total of three titles: the year-end, average and rookie.
“My goal at the beginning of the season was just to fill my permit,” McLaughlin said. “We were still questioning if the Southeastern Circuit would even have the Circuit Finals, but that was my goal if they did.”
At her first ProRodeo, she filled her permit and, on March 24, the PRCA announced breakaway as an added event.
Going into the finals, only $3,900 separated the top 12 ropers in the standings, making the year-end title possible for anyone. McLaughlin ranked right in the middle at No. 7. Then she went to work. The flag dropped on her first-round calf in 2.4 seconds, worth first and $1,264.
“After the first round, I realized that the year-end was a possibility,” McLaughlin said. “That kind of changed up my game plan. Going in there, I just wanted to win the average and get a spot to the NFR Open. Then the second round came, and I got even closer to the year-end.”
The 21-year-old roper placed second in the second round with a 2.7 for $948 and won the third round with a 2.4 for $1,264.
“By the time the third run came, I was last out, and I realized I had won the average,” McLaughlin recalled. “I was pretty much going for day money. I just kind of had fun on that run. At that point, I didn’t have to go do anything. I had won the year-end. I had won the average. It was just a great feeling going into that last run.”
McLaughlin finished with a total time of 7.5 seconds on three, earning her $1,897 in the average and $5,373 overall. She capped off the 2022 ProRodeo season with $6,810.19 in earnings at 14 rodeos total. As the high-money earner, she earned the Circuit Rookie of the Year title.
“I didn’t even think it was possible for me to end up winning the year-end and the rookie,” said the University of West Alabama senior rodeo athlete and three-time NHSFR qualifier. “It’s amazing. I can’t even describe it. It really hasn’t even hit me. I look at it and I smile. I’m like, ‘Wow, I just did that.’ I was seventh coming into it and there are a lot of girls that rope good. I thought it was going to be extremely tough to try to do that. The cards just fell in the right place and I’m very thankful to have it end the way it did.”
McLaughlin credits her successful debut circuit season to her horses: LPT Pepto Annie, a 6-year-old sorrel mare she calls Marie, and Aeros Eye Win, a 14-year-old sorrel gelding she calls Wingman.
“They are both very important to me,” McLaughlin stated. “This is the first year I’ve really gotten to haul Marie. She surprises me every time I get on her, just how cool she is. She’s changed my roping. And Wingman, he’s kind of been like Old Faithful, just kind of always there when you need him. Just get on and go. Usually, he’s going to do about the same thing.”
As the first breakaway roper to represent the Southeastern Circuit at the NFR Open next July in Colorado Springs, McLaughlin is aiming to add a National Circuit Championship to her impressive resume.
“I’m extremely excited to have the chance to go out there,” she shared. “The fact that the Southeastern Circuit did have the [breakaway] finals and we can go out there is even more special. It just opens a lot more doors for us down here.”