Is breakaway roping finally breaking the financial barriers that have plagued it throughout its whole history?
By late March 2023, No. 1 breakaway roper Hali Williams outpaced No. 1 barrel racer Jordan Briggs by $2,330 in WPRA earnings. To date, Williams has earned $90,224 of 2023 WPRA earnings in 18 rodeos while Briggs has earned $87,894 in just six rodeos.
“When I look at the numbers, for the top [breakaway] girls to be running right with the top girls in the barrels is great,” said WPRA Roping Director Lynn Smith.
The money milestone could signal that the efforts of breakaway ropers and supporters are actually paying off. With more rodeos adding breakaway and equal money, it’s worth seeing where breakaway stands compared to barrel racing, which has been a part of ProRodeo rosters for decades.
The Breakaway Roping Journal caught up with breakaway industry veteran Smith, as well as young gun Williams to compare the top 20 WPRA standings between the events, and to discuss where breakaway has been and where it’s going.
Breakaway Earnings v. Barrel Earnings
The WPRA earnings spread between No. 2 and No. 15
Barrel Racing: $27,094
“We’re getting to where, for the girls to be competitive and make the NFBR, they’re going to have to win a big rodeo,” said Smith, who has been pushing breakaway’s inclusion and equal payout for decades. “You’re not going to be able to plug away all summer and get money here and there. You’re going to have [to have] a substantial check come your way to make the top 15.”
While there are exciting figures in the top 20 comparisons, there are numbers that show the need for continued progress, too.
Average earnings per rodeo:
Barrel Racing: $2,954
On average, breakaway ropers earn $611 less than barrels racers do at a rodeo. Across the whole season, that amounts to a top 20 breakaway roper earning $26,844 while a top 20 barrel racer will earn $32,394. That’s a spread of $5,550, which can be the difference between having enough diesel to haul to the next rodeo or not.
“I think the numbers are only going to get better,” offered 19-year-old roping prodigy and current breakaway leader Hali Williams. “A lot of rodeos are adding equal money.”
Who is Hali Williams? Read about the young ladies’ journey to winning 2023 RodeoHouston and growing her lead on the Breakaway Pro Rodeo field.
The progress is notable, but there are still large rodeos that do not have breakaway on their rosters, like San Angelo, Texas. (To San Angelo’s credit, they hope to add the event in 2024).
That’s a level of missed opportunity that translates into 29 fewer rodeos in which top 20 breakaway ropers can compete compared to top 20 barrel racers—an average of 1.45 fewer rodeos per breakaway competitor. This figure may seem small but, over the course of the 2023 season, fewer opportunities to compete, earn equal money and make a living on the rodeo road is magnified for breakaway ropers.
Positive in spite of difficulty
Even with the discrepancies, Smith is proud of the progress the sport of breakaway has made and calls the growth in earnings “a win.”
“We have to keep people wanting the breakaway,” Smith said. “It’s an easy event to understand. It’s exciting, it’s fast, it’s women and it’s good horses. As ambassadors of this event, we have to keep it in demand. As ropers, we’ve got to keep coming off grateful and professional, and it’s going to take care of itself. People want to see it. The calf always wins, and the girls do a great job riding their horses. Their horses are cleaned up and we’re professional—we’re doing our part to fit in.”
As the opportunities within the sport of breakaway grow, there is more room for these women to invest in the rodeo industry. While there is still work to be done with large rodeos that don’t include breakaway and lack equal payout, the progress breakaway has made toward equality in the rodeo-sphere seems to be a promising indicator of things to come.
Breakaway v. Rodeo
In the greater scheme of rodeo events, breakaway, barrel racing and tie down roping earnings pale in comparison to saddle bronc earnings. The Breakaway Roping Journal pulled the top 15 earnings for all four events and compiled them into one graph.