Jolee Lautaret-Jordan is a three-time National Finals Rodeo barrel racer (2002—2004) with a background in breakaway roping, team roping and tie-down roping who Women’s Professional Rodeo Association members elected as their roping director this March. Entering office April 1, Lautaret-Jordan was faced with a pandemic at the same time breakaway ropers were finally making headway into the ProRodeo ranks. Since then, she’s worked with committees, ropers, sponsors and producers to help expand the sport in the midst of an unprecedented global challenge.
CS: You’ve certainly gained acclaim as a barrel racer, but I know you have a background in roping before that. Tell me about how roping has been a part of your life.
JJ: I always roped. Mom, Dad and I, just like with everyone else, it was a family thing. Mom and I, when I was in college, we started going to the WPRA all-women’s rodeos. We did that for quite a few years. We circuit rodeoed barrel racing and did the all girl rodeos when we could.
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Mom won the world championship in the heeling, and I was reserve in the heading. We tied down, breakawayed and team roped. Back then they had the full rodeos with roughstock and the whole deal. Then I just got my good mare to run barrels, and it was hard to rope and be full-time rodeoing with trying to make the Finals.
Now I’m trying to get back to it. Since they’re having breakaway with the rodeos we’re going to anyway, we’re getting back into it. I went to my first two team ropings recently, and it hasn’t changed much!
CS: Can you clarify what your roll is with the WPRA these days?
JJ: I am the roping director. So I am in charge of all the roping stuff—not just the breakaway at the ProRodeos. We have tie-down and team ropings and produce the World Finals and crown champions in those events. The gals I represent are all the ropers.
CS: This sure is a unique year to be in charge of the roping.
JJ: I was elected in the first of March and seated the first of April. It really has been such a challenge. COVID-19 has been so hard on everybody. With the breakaway and the new agreement with the PRCA, it was poised to be huge. This COVID deal has slowed all of that down. It’s been tough being new, even though I’d been on the board before as the barrel racing director. Things are done differently because that was 11 years ago. And things are different anyway. It’s like being new director and we have a new event and there’s things we’re having to do to add the event with ProRodeo Breakaway. I say it’s like playing Bat the Wombat. Things pop up and we’re just trying to bat them back down.
CS: What has been the biggest challenge in adding breakaway as a ProRodeo event?
JJ: I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm for it, which is amazing. It’s new. Just getting the education part of it together is really what we spend a lot of time with now. The committees are used to a certain process of approving rodeos. So we’re just reminding them that they have to do an extra approval form for the extra event, and we’re educating them on our rules in the breakaway that they’re responsible for. We’re also educating our ropers, because most are used to roping at regional-level rodeos and jackpots and trying to get them all caught up to speed, and working with their entering through ProCom because that’s its own entity. It’s its own educational process to try to get everyone to understand how it will work, and still making adjustments and molding how it will work, while keeping the big picture in mind. At the end, we want it to be like the other events, and we’re taking these baby steps to get there. It’s fun, because people are excited because there’s this whole learning curve that we’re all battling.
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CS: We write about team roping all the time, so we’ve been covering ropers’ equal-money fight for years. You’re just at the beginning of that push right now, but how important is it for breakaway ropers to be paid the same as the other events?
JJ: That’s absolutely our goal at some point, to have equal money. I’ve had a lot of conversations with my fellow breakaway ropers on this. We recognize that rodeo committees are not running on a high-profit margin. When they’re looking at adding more cattle costs and more approval fees, it’s a risk they’re taking. These first few years, we’re flexible with that and let them come in at a level they can. We firmly believe it’s a great event for fans, and we’ll be a big hit wherever we go. But we want committees to try it at a level they can and see if it fits into their communities. In the back of my mind, I have this thought of how the barrel race got to equal money, but we don’t want it to take as long as the barrel race. At one point in the early 1980s, the board put together a three-year, stair-step plan for committees to work toward paying barrel racers equal money. In the back of my mind we’ll implement that in a few years. We’ll ask them for a chance to try it. We’ll show them that we’re here, we’re established, and that there’s infrastructure as far as building our membership that has to happen, too. We’ll do a three-year window, and we’ll have equal money or we won’t approve it. We’re trying to get some consistency in how things are and make sure they’ll like it without a huge cost at the forefront. Honestly, half or more committees are already adding equal money. A lot of the ones we’ve talked to that didn’t add breakaway said they want to add equal money before they have it at all. They felt it was slighting the ropers to add it without offering equal money. They said they didn’t want to bring it in at less than the other events. So that’s also pretty cool. I don’t think it will be as big of an issue as getting to it. So it will be over the course of a certain number of years.
CS: I’ve got to admit—when I started really paying attention to how breakaway roping was working at the ProRodeo level, I was a bit confused about how you’re planning to award world titles this year—with a Roping Division standings and a ProRodeo Breakaway World Standings. Can you clarify?
JJ: It has been a little bit confusing. On the barrel racing side, we’ve already had the regular ProRodeo world standings, from the rodeos, then the divisional circuits form the jackpots. We’re going in reverse with the breakaway. Our standings up until this year were based on co-approved events, regional rodeos and jackpots. Last year, the rodeos we did have—20 or 30—we grouped them into the the same deal. The desire now that we have the PRCA agreement was to try to mold it into a rodeo side and the roping/divisional side. For this year, the roping standings that are based upon co-approved events, and the champion will be crowned at the World Finals, and we’ll call her the National Champion. The World Champion will be from the Rodeo Standings. We’ll have two champs, but we’ll only call one the World Champion from the rodeo side, working toward the same model we have in the barrel race.
CS: At the PRCA’s NFR-move press conference Sept. 9, PRCA CEO George Taylor confirmed to us that it’s his intent to have breakaway, in some form, as part of this year’s NFR activities. He didn’t have many details, though. Can you clarify how the process is working with adding breakaway to the NFR this year?
JJ: We have been talking with the PRCA. We’ve had several meetings starting in the end of June or early July. There’s a very strong desire on both of our parts to produce some sort of championship event. Obviously, our ultimate goal—and down the road everybody is hopeful—is that breakaway will become part of the NFR. Until that is the reality, we want to have a season-ending championship event that begins to capture the prestige the NFR has for the other events. We’re having a lot of conversation back and forth on how the format will work. That’s what we don’t have nailed down yet. From what I understand, we’re planning to have it in Fort Worth during the same timeframe as the NFR. We just don’t have it nailed down yet. I think there’s very strong support from the PRCA and from us to get it done. It’s been a shortened season from what we would have had. We had 20 or 30 rodeos planning to add breakaway that couldn’t even have their rodeos. It’s been good anyway, but we didn’t get to have the volume we’d hoped.
CS: How has the new ProRodeo breakaway partnership affected membership?
JJ: It’s tough because we have now the new ProRodeo Breakaway card, so we have 250 members who have that card, and that’s an increase from what our plain roping membership was in the past. But it’s not a true representation of what we have because we have so many WPRA members like me and Jimmie Smith who had their barrel racing card previously. They’re all eligible to rope in those events as well. I think we had about 100 additional members who have entered on a card, or new permit holders. So that’s about 350 girls who’ve bought a card and entered an event. I fully expect that would have been so much higher. Like in the Turquoise Circuit, the board was planning to have a breakaway with their Circuit Finals rodeo. We had five or six rodeos just in our circuit adding breakaway, and all of that got canceled. I know we’d have had a lot more memberships bought, because gals just hadn’t bought their cards yet when this all hit. A lot of that is modest, but given what actually is going on, it’s not a bad number.
CS: Are their plans to crown an All-Around Cowgirl World Champion from the ProRodeo standings?
JJ: We haven’t talked about it, but it’s definitely been on my mind. I’d love to do a ProRodeo all-around title from the barrels and the breakaway. It would be so nice to find a sponsor for that to recognize our cowgirls. The all-around, even at our World Finals, we have a handful of events that count. So there are some standings that come in, but it’s such a sudden death at the Finals because the money is so much greater there. All though, I constantly tease them that they should have a breakaway for those of us who mostly barrel race if they’re going to have a barrel race just for the ropers.
CS: What else is going on in the WPRA we should know about?
JJ: We did just vote to move forward with the World Finals in Waco in November, where we crown our champs. It’s four go rounds, and open to all members. It’s not a qualification-type thing. It’s always been a fun event with all of our gals together getting to rope. We’re excited to go forward with that.
CS: What can individual breakaway ropers do to help move the sport forward?
JJ: One of the things breakaway ropers already do pretty great is the professionalism they bring when they come and their attitude. They are grateful to be there, and the committees really appreciate that and notice that. Things like trotting to get out of the arena to keep the show moving. The folks behind the production really, really notice that. Talking to committee people, thanking them for what they do. They’re usually volunteers, and their jobs are thankless. These things are so small, and it’s pretty easy to say thank you. But it goes a long way; it really does.
CS: If ropers have questions, what’s the best way to get a hold of you?
JJ: My info is on the WPRA website. I field phone calls a lot. It’s cool, even texts. That’s cool too. I can answer when I have a minute. I’m happy to talk with folks and take ideas and answer questions as best I can. I’m happy to help with the process of education. Breakaway has sold its self, with the ladies competing and advocating for it. It’s not a hard sales pitch. It makes my job a little easier. These committees are pretty excited about adding it. They’ve got the chance to see what a great event it is. Our gals at The American, they talk and put the profile out so well. That came from the ladies. They’re already doing the things that help their event grow and prosper. BRJ