Nineteen-year-old Hali Williams netted the biggest win of her budding career at RodeoHouston on Sunday, March 19, 2023, catching in 3.6 seconds aboard gelding Stylish Red Light.
“It’s an out-of-body experience, that’s for sure,” Williams said. “Not often you can have a 3.6 anymore and it wins money.”
With the Houston win came a $50,000 paycheck, pushing Williams to an impressive lead in the WPRA breakaway world standings with $89,300 in earnings.
Williams was first out in the four-man Shootout Round at Rodeo Houston after advancing in the final spot from the Championship Round of 10 competitors.
“I’ve had an amazing group of girls behind me, but when you’re first gunner out you just have to put a number on the board and let them come beat you,” said Williams, of Comanche, Texas, and daughter to eight-time World Champion team roper Speed Williams.
“I got beat out at the barrier a little bit—I was trying to stay off of it—but when I got my 3.6, I was being aggressive but not stupid in the run. I was shooting second or third, honestly. I thought someone was going to top 3.6 seconds.”
Winding road to the Shootout Round
Williams’ path to the Shootout Round was a nail-biter. It started with her earning $3,000 over three runs during the fifth Super Series March 12–14, followed by the semifinals, in which she caught a barrier for a 13.3-second time. Nonetheless, she advanced to the Championship Sunday performances.
Williams received a text from Speed before her final runs on Sunday morning. Never one for too many fluffy words, Speed encouraged his girl to enjoy the moment at Houston.
“He normally says, ‘Go out there and do it; make a run,’” Williams said. “But he sent me this pretty sweet little text that said ‘It doesn’t matter win or lose; you’re still going hard this year. You’ve got this. Go have fun.’”
In the Championship Round, Williams tied with the competitor she calls her “breakaway sister”—2022 WRPA World Champion Martha Angelone—for the fourth and final Shootout spot with a 3.3-second run.
“I’ve been sick with a head cold and didn’t read all the rules,” Williams explained. “I thought I lost the tiebreaker to Martha in the Championship Round. But advancing through the Semifinals trumps advancing in the wildcard performance like Martha did.
“I was ready to go home, but they told me I was going to rope again in the Shootout.”
Rope she did, securing one of the biggest single checks in professional rodeo that will fully count toward 2023 WPRA world standings.
The win added to the two third-place finishes she earned at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo and San Antonio Rodeo, amounting to a consistent start to the 2023 season with several months to go.
Hali has winning tools with horse and Halo
Gelding Stylish Red Light, sired by Stylish Rey Gay and out of CD Lights mare Shiney Night Light, has proved to be a reliable mount for Williams despite his relative youth.
“Red Light has been amazing,” Williams said. “We were rookie-on-rookie last year and he’s taken everything in stride. I can honestly say that this is the first rodeo where he truly felt the excitement. It probably came from me a little bit because I’m nonchalant about a lot of runs and Houston had my nerves a little more for sure.”
After a jittery Semifinals together, Williams took extra time to lope Red Light ahead of Championship Sunday and focus his mind on his only jobs—standing, running, rating and stopping.
As for the rope in Williams’ hand, she opts for a specialized head rope from Top Hand Ropes.
“When I started breakaway roping after heading all my life, I tried to use a poly but they were too heavy and soft for me,” Williams said. “So, I started using my head ropes to practice with and Curt Matthews from Top Hand Ropes created a head-style rope called the Halo that I have been using.”
Breakaway is Williams’ Home Away from Home
After growing up in the team roping world with her family, taking on the solo sport of breakaway has its perks and downsides for Williams, who once maintained the goal of being the first woman to team rope at the NFR.
“Now, I am kind of stuck by myself from a competition standpoint. I like it, because it’s just me, my calf and my horse. I don’t have to depend on a partner and it’s a lot simpler. The first year was a little bit rough, but I’ve made some breakaway friends and it’s like my home away from home now.”
Williams marveled at the icons of the sport that are still competing today, praising them for their commitment to get breakaway on the bigger stages of rodeo. Amidst the fight for equal money still being had at rodeos big and small, RodeoHouston’s 2022 decision to give breakaway ropers the opportunity to win $50,000 impacted not only the winner’s season, but the trajectory of the entire sport.
“JJ Hampton, Jackie Crawford, Lari Dee and Hope Thompson kept breakaway in these producers’ minds and they’re getting to compete here,” Williams said.