Heads snapped around when Columbia River Circuit rodeos began including breakaway, and it happened back in 2015 because of Jennifer Casey.
The physical therapist from Washington is a WPRA circuit spokesperson who one day got a call from a committeeman with the North Idaho Fair and PRCA Rodeo in Coeur d’Alene. He needed something to fill space on a Thursday afternoon during the fair.
Casey put on a WPRA breakaway jackpot. They did it again in 2016. Then in 2017, someone with the Coulee City Last Stand PRCA Rodeo asked her about it, and went ahead and put her breakaway in the rodeo with equal money. Then Kennewick joined the trend. Then Ellensburg and then Pendleton.
“These committees up here were willing to take a chance on us,” Casey says. “And we’re an easy add. I mean, look at the sponsorship opportunities with another women’s event! Sponsors love female-owned organizations. The return on investment for breakaway is a really easy marketing sell for the committee.”
That same summer Pendleton came on board, Kami Peterson added breakaway to BFI Week, which caught Randy Bernard’s attention. He added it to RFD-TV’s The American for the novelty, after which his old company, the PBR, included it as standard in the newly launched WCRA. After Cheyenne and other big rodeos joined the bandwagon, finally the Colorado Springs office on Pro Rodeo Drive took notice.
Casey, who was 21st in the WPRA world breakaway standings when she had to go back to her job this fall, says women need to remember what they’re worth. With rodeo contractors and producers, she’s “learned to do a little math and ask lots of questions” to make sure payouts aren’t being taken from fees or held out.
“We’re really valuable, breakaway as a whole,” she says. “Our membership dollars and our marketability is huge. So we need to do what’s best for the sport so that, years down the road, we can compete in that little yellow arena in Las Vegas for all that money.”