Ella Lawton is Breakaway’s “Helmet Girl”

Ella Lawton is breaking barriers—the headgear kind.

breakaway roper in a helmet
Ella Lawton smiles after competing at the 2019 Junior High Nationals Rodeo. Photo by Acentric Rodeo courtesy of Lawton.

Ella Lawton proudly backs into the roping box wearing a Tipperary helmet—an uncommon sight in the breakaway industry.

But the 18-year-old from Mondovi, Wisconsin, has her reasons—actually two reasons. In the third grade, Lawton suffered her first major concussion on the playground. Then, she suffered a second when she was in eighth grade, caused by a horse knocking her down on the concrete. She temporarily lost her memory, blacked out and stopped riding for a year in 2013. Now, Lawton happily calls herself the “Helmet Girl.”

Ella Lawton pictured following her third grade concussion and at an early horse show before she started roping. Photos courtesy of Lawton.

“I am not going to take the risk of not wearing it,” Lawton said. “When I put that helmet on, I’m super confident. There is a stigma about wearing a helmet in the rodeo industry, especially if you’re a roper. But this helmet has saved my life in the past. In the eighth grade,  I had my barrel horse flip over and roll over on top of me [after my second concussion]. When she stood up, she kicked my head and, if I hadn’t been wearing the helmet, I don’t know where I would be.”

Despite often being the only roper at rodeos and jackpots wearing a helmet, Lawton said when she puts it on, she doesn’t think about what people say or think. She’s emboldened others to wear them, too, with youth coming up to Lawton saying they decided to wear their helmet because they saw Lawton wearing hers.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling when you hear you’ve inspired someone,” Lawton said.

Helmets and horsepower

Lawton recently competed in the May 2023 Women’s Rodeo World Championship  as a Challenger, which is the division of ropers who have won less than $20,000 in lifetime earnings or $6,000 per year.

Riding 9-year-old mare “Stinger,” Lawton got some high-pressure experience at the event. Stinger (Ima Chairman x Stinging Queen Bee x Ikes Last) carried Lawton to catch her first calf in 5.17 seconds on the tricky short score.

“I was having some trouble with Stinger [that week], but we’re coming together. She’s so fast and was really amped up there. I enjoyed being able to compete at the historic Cowtown Coliseum and appreciated that it was an all-women’s event where I could compete for more than $60,000 in the breakaway. I haven’t ever had the opportunity to compete in an event that prestigious.”

Ella Lawton and Stinger stop the clock at the 2023 WRWC
Lawton and Stinger stop the clock at the 2023 WRWC. Photo courtesy of WCRA by Josh Homer/Bull Stock Media.

Another horse on Lawton’s trailer is cutting-bred practice mare “Prada,” sired by Rockin W and out of Dual Pep mare Hyadualin Darlin.

“She’s young and I plan to start rodeoing off of her,” Lawton said of the 8-year-old. “I’ve taken a lot of runs on her and she’s been my behind-the-scenes horse.”

Lawton’s breakaway background

Hailing from Western Wisconsin, Lawton grew up in a family with agricultural roots, but no horses. Fortunately, parents Eric and Erica were behind her from the start, pushing her to be the best she could be as a roper and a young lady.

“I’ve been roping since I was in eighth grade, so this is my fifth year,” Lawton said. “I started riding horses when I was 5 years old, and I didn’t really pick up breakaway until later. In breakaway, I’ve really had to rely on others to learn. I didn’t have a parent there who knew the sport to critique me when I started, so my breakaway style has been shaped by a lot of people.”

With mental performance coach Donene Taylor coaxing Lawton to be more outgoing for the past four years, and her parents hauling her around the country to learn from names like Great Lakes Circuit team roper Jess Hume, Arizona rope horse trainer Steve Sherwood and 2023 WRWC Breakaway Champion Kelsie Domer, Lawton is primed for what’s next.

READ: Performance Tips from Coach Donene

What’s next for Lawton

A fresh high school graduate, Lawton is planning on attending Ranger College and Tarleton State University simultaneously as a pre-veterinary student.

“I am really focusing on experience in college,” Lawton said. “Amateur rodeoing is something I want to do and I’m going to hold off on my [WPRA] permit right now because I want to get as much experience as I can before that rookie year. I also want to focus on my education and surround myself with successful people to improve myself. I am looking forward to being able to improve my roping and my horsemanship.”

Lawton plans to keep nominating to the WRWC and other major events via the World Champion’s Rodeo Alliance, too.

“I nominate for WCRA events to have the chance to continue to compete with the best,” Lawton said. “And because you can’t earn that amount of money in one sitting from any other associations, other than The American.”

As savvy as Ella Lawton sounds regarding her education and breakaway goals, it seems saving her brain was—and is—a worthwhile choice.