While the eyes of the rodeo world watched Jackie Crawford rope six-months pregnant to win a gold buckle at the first-ever National Finals of Breakaway Roping, four teenage top hands pocketed a collective $147,600 across the variety of youth and Open breakaways available during NFR week.
Three Texas High School Rodeo Association stand-outs Josie Conner, Aspen Miller and Madison Outhier, as well as Florida's 12-year-old Harley Pryor, cashed in big-time during NFR week, thanks to their talents and the producers of The Masters Elite Invitational in Weatherford, Texas, Chris Neal's Rope For the Crown & Vegas Stars in Glen Rose, Texas, Tuf Cooper's Junior World in Alvarado and Fort Worth, Texas, the All-In Breakaway in Stephenville and Mike and Sherrylynn Johnson's Vegas Tuffest Junior World Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
While the NFBR paid top 15 WPRA contenders some $200,000 over three days and drew the attention of the rodeo world, what happened in smaller venues across Texas and Oklahoma insured that breakaway roping will continue to thrive for decades to come.
"The amount of money these young ladies had to rope for is unprecedented," Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee Lari Dee Guy said. "But what they did with that opportunity? That's something they've got to be so very proud of. Growing up, we had Barry Burk's roping, and that was it. If anybody put on any kind of junior rodeo anywhere—added money or not—we just went. Now, the youth of the sport have opportunities we never dreamed of. And what happened in Arlington, and what happened with the Women's Rodeo World Championships and so many other major rodeos, gives these ladies a future that's so bright."
Producers like Mike and Sherrylynn Johnson have put on ropings and clinics for years, but they hit a record youth payout with almost a million dollars in cash in Tulsa at their Vegas Tuffest this December.
"We just had a vision to help kids," Sherrylynn, a former CNFR all-around champ and NFR barrel racer, said. "Our kiddos love breakaway roping. Every brother has a sister who ropes with him. She opens the gates, unties the calves. What happens to her? It gives the horses who don’t work in the calf roping a place to shine. And it gives our kiddos another shot at something to pay for their college."
Josie Conner, $47,000
Josie Conner, 17, Iowa, Louisiana, pocketed some $47,000 across the ten days of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
She started with a win in Weatherford, Texas, at The Masters Elite where she won the average and a go-round and pocketed $21,000, plus another $17,000 for placing at Mike and Sherrylynn Johnson's Vegas Tuffest Junior World Championships in Tulsa and another $9,000 at the the All-In 3D Breakaway in Stephenville.
"Oh my goodness it’s crazy," Conner said. "It's not just been these last two weeks—it's been all year the money breakaway ropers get to rope for. There’s so many people we get to thank for this—I can’t even put it into words."
Conner, a high school junior, plans to attend McNeese State University in the fall of 2021, but she won't be able to buy her WPRA card to hit the rodeo road until 2022.
"I’ve grown up around the rodeo industry, and it’s all I’ve ever known," Conner said. "There weren’t opportunities like this just five years ago when I was dreaming of roping for a living. Nobody knew this would happen. I didn’t know there would be a career for me to pursue...I will never leave this industry."
The $47,000 Conner won is not counting the $10,000 she banked the week prior in Georgia at the Southeast Mega, where she won four out of five rounds and the average.
"I really don’t get intimidated," Conner said, when asked what it's like going head-to-head with so many of her heroes, like Guy and Crawford. "I’ve been around it for so long. You have to know you can compete. I know the talent they have but I want to believe that I can do it, too. I know they’re great, but intimidated is not the word I’d use. I would say we all have a level of respect for one another."
Conner, Miller and Outhier are as tight-knit as the WPRA's current perennial contenders, and they've all spent so much time together that age is just a number between them.
"I think it all intertwines," Conner said. "Madi and Aspen and I are really good friends, and we’re all friends with Jackie and Lari Dee. We don’t notice an age difference when we’re all together."
Conner, who also won the Cinch Top Girl Award at the 2020 USTRC's Cinch National Finals of Team Roping on the heel side, also competed in the WCRA this year and won second at the Kansas City Royal City Round-Up. She split the win at the San Angelo Roping Fiesta earlier this fall in the historic event's first time adding breakaway.
Aspen Miller, $41,000
Aspen Miller, 17, of Santa Fe, Texas, had to choose between which of the many big money ropings to enter over NFR week. She picked two—the All-In Breakaway and the Johnson's Vegas Tuffest Junior World. She walked away with $41,000 between the two.
"You can stretch yourself thin going to too many," Miller said. "The Hot Rounds and the Shootout rounds were my highlights of the two. At the All-In, the girl before me was a 1.9. I was second to last out and was 1.8. That was the highlight of that roping. I won $20,522 in total there. Then at Mike Johnson’s I placed eighth in the first round, won the second round and came back second high call. I had tough luck in the short go, but since I won the second round, I had a spot in the Hot Round. They take the top two from each round and top six in the average, and I ended up winning the hot round with a 1.9."
Miller, a senior, is looking at schools near her house to continue her education, but she plans to continue to rodeo and buy her WPRA card in 2022.
"I’ve started to dabble in breeding, and seeing where that goes with the new Pink and Ruby Buckle breakaway coming up," Miller said. "I want to see where all that goes. I plan to college rodeo. I don’t have any for sure. I’ve talked to several coaches.
"I do plan to buy my WPRA card, with breakaway getting so big. I hope that by the time I’m 18 I can go out on the road. My birthday is in July so I’ll wait another year to get into that. But hopefully by then it will be even bigger and I’ll get to rope against LD and J.J. and all them. I love it. It’s so cool."
Miller also won one year's use of a Frontier, three-horse slant aluminum bumper pull trailer at the Johnson's Vegas Tuffest Junior World.
Madison Outhier, $34,600
No surprises here. Madison Outhier has pocketed the two single-largest paychecks in breakaway roping's history: $110,000 for the first-ever RFD-TV's The American Breakaway Roping title in 2019, and $60,000 for her win in the breakaway at the Women's Rodeo World Championship this November.
She continued her winning ways over NFR Week, using her Cactus Tsunami for even more money to close out 2020.
"The majority of my money this week came from junior ropings," Outhier said. "I'd say about 75% of it. So the fact that money is available to breakaway ropings is awesome, but that it’s put toward the junior events, that myself, Josie and Aspen, have the chance for this is so awesome. We get to win money in the open ropings, but that the youth producers and everybody is stepping up is so unreal. That’s what’s creating this big push in breakaway roping. We’re able to be in these pressure situations and short rounds that prepares us to compete at every level."
Outhier won the Junior World in Fort Worth, won the average at the Johnson's roping in Tulsa, placed in their high-money hot round and placed in some rounds at Chris Neal's Vegas Stars roping.
"We’re entering, we’re paying our fees, and everybody who’s going to all these ropings is really helping the industry," Outhier said. "My wins haven’t made me any higher than the next girl. Us young kids are really going to be what’s allowing it to keep growing in the next few years. I’m so grateful to Lari Dee, Jackie, J.J. and Kelsie for everything they've done to get us here. But the next 10-15-20 years, it’s in our hands."
Outhier bought her WPRA card on her 18th birthday, and while she's going to Texas A&M next year, she also plans to hit the rodeo trail hard and give the top 15 a run for their money at the 2021 NFBR.
Harley Pryor, $25,000 (plus a Ram Truck!)
At only 12 years old, Moore Haven, Florida's Harley Pryor hit big against the big kids.
"I won the 15 & Under Breakaway at Mike & Sherrylynn’s Vegas Tuffest, and I placed in some rounds in the 19 & Under Breakaway and Second in the 15 & Under at Chris Neal’s," Pryor, who also roped in the 12 & Under Tie-Down, said.
Pryor, who ropes morning and night when she's at home in Florida, keeps a few practice horses in addition to her good horses and just likes to tie-down on the side.
"My mom breakawayed when she was in high school, junior high and college, and my dad bull dogged," Pryor said. "I’ve been into rodeo ever since I was born."
In 2020 Pryor qualified for RFD-TV's The American semifinals, and she's got her sights set on AT&T Stadium.
"I want to make it to AT&T Stadium for the American, and then eventually the NFR," Pryor said. BRJ