On September 15, ten weeks prior to the 2021 Wrangler NFR in Las Vegas, the PRCA and WPRA decided at an NFR Committee meeting to host a second annual National Finals of Breakaway Roping in Las Vegas in December. Details are still being worked out, but officials expect the format to consist of 10 full go-rounds held at the 9,500-seat Orleans Arena over two days, with a guaranteed purse of at least $200,000.
“As a whole, the girls want to rope under a traditional NFR format, and that wasn’t likely to work out in the Thomas and Mack just two months out, considering the TV delays it now features,” said WPRA President Jimmie Munroe. “The girls said they’ve worked too hard to compromise their dream, which is to rope under real NFR conditions in the Thomas and Mack.”
A recent meeting at the Pendleton (Oregon) Round-Up of most of the world’s top breakaway ropers featured in-depth conversations that helped determine the manifestation of this year’s National Finals.
“We discussed some options we could propose for getting breakaway into NFR performances, including a top-four sudden death round or splitting a go-round between two perfs,” said WPRA Breakaway Director Jolee Jordan.
The lady ropers were against a sudden-death format for deciding their world championship. And they were split on a partial appearance. Some liked it as a stepping stone, while others felt that all if 15 gals worked hard to qualify, all 15 should get a chance to rope in the Thomas and Mack.
“In the end, the consensus was that we may be better served, given the late timing and the division amongst the contestants over the format, to not ask the NFRC to include a segment of breakaway in the perfs of the 2021 Wrangler NFR,” said Jordan. “We felt it better to ask the NFRC to begin working with us now on 2022.”
The NFRC has for many years included a non-voting WPRA representative alongside voting members made up of PRCA and Las Vegas Events (LVE) representatives.
The venue and purse are a bit of a disappointment to girls who – let’s face it – were not tearing up and down the highway all season for the money. For example, World No. 1 Shelby Boisjoli has earned $43,701 compared to barrel racing leader Hailey Kinsel’s $110,044.
It took faith for these cowgirls to put it all on the line this summer with no knowledge of any NFR carrot. Boisjoli noted that, in her native Canada, officials announced the CFR would feature breakaway in the performances – and what it would pay – before the gals entered all year.
“It’s really frustrating for me that we hauled to PRCA rodeos all summer and with literally four rodeos left, still had no clue if there’d be a National Finals,” she said. “We’ve been fighting tooth and nail to the bitter end hoping to go to a Finals. If it’s not going to pay much, I’d have loved to have known that at least a month ago, and I’d have gone home. I literally had to sell my trailer to get enough money together to go home to Canada. We’ve been out here until the bitter end.”
And Boisjoli has earned more than any other lady. The women on the proverbial bubble are spending their last dollars right now, Boisjoli said, and sacrificing everything to land in the top 15 come September 30.
“It was great to have an NFBR last year, but if it’s going to pay $4,400 to win a round again this year, well that won’t even make our yearly trailer payment,” Boisjoli explained.
The soft-spoken Canadian isn’t complaining. Because she and her peers are more than willing to try to raise extra purse money themselves, if it doesn’t come from the PRCA or Las Vegas Events. Lari Dee Guy, currently ranked eighth in the world, would also love to see the breakaway ropers bring new sponsors to professional rodeo and thus, a whole new wave of cash.
“If the PRCA could just let us know what it needs from us to treat us the same, that would be great,” she said. “I know we need new sponsorships in rodeo, period.”
Considering that the Wrangler Network’s broadcast of last year’s NFBR attracted 2.8 million views, the ladies are hoping this fall that new sponsors will step up to capitalize on the new fan base—and in turn sustain the actual women behind the movement.
“Breakaway has snowballed so fast,” said Boisjoli. “But if it slows down now and loses momentum, all of us who spent all our money will not be able to afford to go next year if we don’t have a good Finals. We wanted to support this and grow it, but if we lose progress now, I can’t see it picking back up again after everything we’ve all invested. We can’t afford to go next summer at this point.”
Guy, too, said it’s been tough to make sacrifices with so much uncertainty about the reward.
“We’re extremely thankful for these opportunities in Las Vegas,” she emphasized. “But we didn’t get there on gratitude alone. A lot of these ladies this summer put in a lot of time and work and spent so much money and left their families.”
Munroe was part of the WPRA team 30 years ago that developed a five-year plan for equal purse money in barrel racing. They asked PRCA rodeos to add at least 50 percent of the other purses by 1981 and equal payouts by 1985. She suggested the same thing could be done now – a multi-year plan with WPRA directors providing advice and support to rodeo committees to help achieve equal money.
At the end of the day, Guy says the breakaway ropers just want simple inclusion in the PRCA equal to other events. Munroe hoped to gain traction on that by focusing at this late date on educating NFR organizers about breakaway’s epic growth instead of adding pressure amidst pandemic uncertainty and political rifts. The statistics she presented the NFRC are staggering.
“We had breakaway at more than 200 approved rodeos this season, compared to 54 last year,” she said. “We let the Committee members know that we were included in rodeos like Reno, Cheyenne, the American, Pendleton and the Tour Finale. We went into Canada this summer and we’re at the Maple Leaf Circuit Finals Rodeo. Plus, breakaway is going to be held at nine PRCA Circuit Finals Rodeos next season, with two more hosting the breakaway finals separately. And the growth isn’t leveling off. We’ve just approved Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Houston. Resistol will honor a Breakaway Rookie of the Year and the AQHA will honor a Breakaway Horse of the Year. The growth is just remarkable. I don’t think everyone on the Committee was aware of the phenomenal growth that women’s breakaway has experienced.”
This December, today’s best female ropers get their own NFR in Las Vegas that will allow the cream to rise to the top over 10 rounds. Better yet, they’ll have 12 months to address any format and logistical issues brought up by organizers regarding their eventual inclusion at rodeo’s Super Bowl.
“The growth of the sport of women’s breakaway is extremely important to the WPRA board and to me,” said Munroe. “We plan to continue to advance the event in professional rodeo and we’ll be communicating with the NFRC at its first meetings in the new year about breakaway being part of the NFR.”