Brylee Braden clearly remembers the moment when roping became her prime focus.
The Horatio, Arkansas native was still young and taking dance lessons at the time.
“My dad and my brothers were going to go roping and I wanted to go with them instead of going to dance class and Mom wouldn’t let me,” Braden, 19, laughed. “From that day on, I chose rodeo.”
Braden continues to choose rodeo every day as a student and rodeo team member at Southern Arkansas University (SAU). Competing as much as she can, Braden is currently on top of the Challenger Leaderboard in the breakaway for the upcoming Women’s Rodeo World Championships (WRWC) and working to maintain that position until the nomination period closes April 16, 2023.
The Women’s Rodeo World Championships is the most lucrative all women’s rodeo event on the planet with a guaranteed $750,000 payout to ladies competing in barrel racing, team roping and breakaway roping May 14-20, 2023 in conjunction with the PBR World Finals.
Though Braden hasn’t previously competed at the WRWC, it was her mom, Tina, who helped her hatch the plan to make a run at a qualification.
“When we first started thinking about it, Mom told me it was a great opportunity, as much money as it offers, and I’d be stupid not to nominate everywhere we go,” Braden noted.
Yes, that’s right, the same Mom who forced her young daughter to skip a day in the roping pen is now a huge cheerleader and supporter of her youngest child’s roping ambitions.
“I don’t think we give moms enough credit . . . she’s basically my secretary,” Braden joked. “I’ve had people come ask me how the nomination deal works and I just say, talk to my mom!”
In addition to handling the nomination process—which involves paying a fee to nominate events through the WRCA’s Virtual Rodeo Qualifier in order to earn points towards the Leaderboards, Tina Braden keeps the crew on task at the competitions.
“If she can’t go with us, she makes sure Dad knows where to go and what I’m entered in. If not for her, me and Barry wouldn’t make it,” Braden stated.
Barry Braden may lack in some organizational skills his wife feels are needed but he was the inspiration to his three children’s interest in rodeo and roping. The elder Braden competed in high school rodeo in Oklahoma and on the ProRodeo circuit as well; Tina too spent her time in the arena and college rodeoed. Braden’s older brothers Bryce and Brody also rope.
Still, the passion for roping Braden feels now didn’t come immediately.
“When I was first getting into it, I didn’t like it,” she admitted. “But the more I kept doing it, then I started to enjoy it more.”
Now, she’s hooked.
“The adrenaline rush I get, it’s indescribable, I can’t tell you how good it feels,” she said. “Especially when you score good and rope great.”
Betting on Dibber
A new horse helped build that fire a few years ago when the Bradens took Brylee down to Clarksville.
“As soon as I saw him, I knew that he was the one,” Braden said of the then-four year old Dibber. “I tried four or five horses that day but he was the first one I rode. On the first calf I ran, I knew—he had so much run, he scored good and had, and has, a lot of heart and try.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever find another one, with my style of roping, that will take it.”
After making Dibber her own, Braden placed in the first roping they entered but then a problem. While kicked out in a pasture on his own, Dibber managed to cut open his hock, an injury that took six months to heal.
“I was kind of scared that he wouldn’t bounce back but he did. He’s the most accident prone horse,” Braden lamented. But his personality seems to have endeared him as much as his grit. “He’s nosy—he’s forever getting up into everyone’s business.”
“With him, I’d love to go rope every weekend,” Braden said of Dibber, now seven. “He makes my job easy and so fun.”
With Dibber’s help, Braden’s rise to the top of the Challenger Leaderboard was set afire by a big showing at Chris Neal’s Future Stars event in Glen Rose, Texas last Memorial Day where she finished as the reserve champ behind 2022 Wrangler National Finals Breakaway Roping qualifier and WPRA Rookie of the Year Josie Conner in the 19 & Under, won the Challenger and was sixth in the open.
“I had a really good weekend there and that’s what gave me a leg up,” Braden said. “From there, Mom and I nominate at almost every roping.”
Braden’s Persistent Roping Peers
Braden has stacked up 3,863.10 points and would be running away from the field but for another teenage phenom in Rylie Romero.
“When I got to number one, the one who has kept me on my toes and made me have to really keep trying is Rylie,” Braden admits. “She came out of the middle of nowhere and if she’s entered, you can just count on her placing. She’s a good little roper.”
Braden has struck up a friendship with her rival, the Louisiana talent who spends almost as much time showing Brahman cows as she does roping, and who is just about 600 points behind Braden on the Leaderboard.
“Her older sister Sydney and mom, Mandy, have become good friends and we go eat together and hang out, crack jokes a lot,” Braden said. “If my dad isn’t with me, I can count on Mandy to have a book on the calves and help out in any way.”
The two young guns epitomize what the WRWC’s Challenger Division was built to promote: cowgirls who aren’t quite at the Pro level as ropers yet but who want and deserve the chance to compete in elite events. Breakaway Challengers are those ropers who’ve won less than $6,000 annually or $20,000 lifetime.
During the WRWC, Challengers and Pros compete in different pools through the qualifying and semi-finals rounds, giving up-and-coming stars, or those who may be just coming back to the sport, the chance to earn money and advance while competing against those of similar skill level. The two divisions aren’t combined until the Showdown Round, the second to last round before champions are crowned. Each event champion earns $60,000.
The race between the Southeastern superstar teens for the number one position on the Leaderboard is about much more than bragging rights. The number one cowgirl is seeded automatically into the Showdown Round, skipping earlier qualification rounds, pays no entry fees, and is given a free stall and hotel room.
Braden is zeroed in on the goal with just a few more weeks to go; friend or not, she’s not going to give up the number one position easily.
“I’m going to keep going to as many as possible, make sure I nominate and rope sharp so I can stay ahead,” Braden said. “I’m super grateful [for the success so far] and hope to keep it up.”
Nominations for the 2023 WRWC close on April 16, 2023 at midnight. Only those competitors ranked in the top 20 on the Leaderboard, those who won a Qualifier Series event or those who advance through the Last Chance Qualifier will be eligible to compete. See wrwc.rodeo for more info.