They rope. They ride. They sort steers twice their size, as well as brand and doctor. If this sounds like America’s working cowboy handling the tough and dirty work of raising cattle, you’re close. But note the pigtails and manicures; try cowgirls. Out on the range and in the arena, you’ll find mothers, daughters, sisters—even grandmas, invested in the Western ranching tradition and the Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association (WRRA).
Established eleven years ago in the grasslands of Kansas, the WRRA has grown rapidly. What started as a dream with 12 women is a now a reality with 160 team members, proving cowgirls can handle ranch rodeo competition just as well as men. WRRA contestants work in four-women teams and compete in five different ranch-based events: sorting, branding, tie-down mugging (laying the animal on its side and tying any three feet together), doctoring and trailer loading, all on the same capable and versatile mount. (Bronc riding is not an accepted event for obvious reasons.)
Most Westerners attend rodeos that ascribe to the rules of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Associations (PRCA), with its emphasis on best times, good skills and big thrills. Events like bronc riding and bull riding draw huge crowds. Ranch rodeo by contrast, born out of the heritage of the West, (and one that, in many ways, helps preserve it) honors every day ranching tasks and requires team work to get the job done. The WRRA, soon to be a nonprofit, hopes to tell an important story bringing recognition to the lifestyle and skills associated with women in all aspects of ranching industries. A scholarship fund and a crisis fund assist their members in significant ways. A strict rules book protects horses and stock animals, and members are asked to always conduct themselves in a manner maintaining the integrity of the cowgirl legacy.
The current Association membership hails from as far north as Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming and south to Oklahoma and Texas; 12 states in all. Colorado boasts members from Grover, Boone, Kim, Limon, Walsenburg and Burns. A total of 26 teams with names like “Too Hard to Handle”, “Cowgirl Swank”, and “4 Branded Chicks” will soon compete in the 11th annual WRRA World Finals this October 16 and 17 at “The Ranch,” the Larimer County Fairgrounds and Events Complex in Loveland, Colorado, sponsored in part by Total Feeds.
If you’ve never been to this deluxe, state-of-the-art Colorado entertainment venue, you’re in for a surprise. Located on a 244-acre circular site, the seven-building complex at the hub of the tri-city area (Loveland, Fort Collins and Greeley) covers eight acres with parking for 2,500. The WRRA couldn’t ask for a better home. Close to Denver and Cheyenne, contestants and audience members have a geographically central location, a 1,000 seat indoor arena, and all the amenities for horse boarding and trailer storage. The city of Loveland offers food and lodging nearby.
In ranch rodeo, no concessions are made for the “fairer sex.” When asked what size steers the stock handlers provide, and how the ladies actually get the job done, former president and three-time world champion Billie Franks explained. “We work with whatever’s available. Even though women are less muscular then men, our lighter women still have a way of getting those steers down. Brain over brawn.” All the events require strength, good roping and riding skills and raw courage. “The tie-down, roping and higher speed events make our rodeos more than entertaining for the crowds,” she added. “And the public loves them. During one night’s competition during a previous year’s World Finals in Kansas City, Kansas, attendance topped 5,000.”
If anything is common to the Association’s growth, it’s the many roles woman undertake. Members are up against work schedules, pregnancy, and family needs. Nonetheless, they’re more than committed, whether competing or not. Juggling around careers and children, they make time for their passion. Billie Frank’s husband likes to brag, “It’s been said the only event missing from the Women’s Ranch Rodeo is the one where you judge who can cook the best meal while sorting, roping and branding!” Current president, McKenzie Minor, a ranch wife and mother, adds, “Ladies who compete year after year love the sport, the competition, and the friendships. We know we aren’t as strong as men, but we definitely know how to get the job done. Being able to compete and have an all women's ranch rodeo association is rewarding in and of itself.”
Coloradoans know that October always brings reasons to head outdoors and enjoy the high country. Now you can consider Northern Colorado for yet another kind of memorable fall experience. See for yourself why some folks say cowgirls have always been able to do whatever cowboys do; they just look better doing it.
Women’s Ranch Rodeo Association
Bio: When Denver-based author, freelancer writer, and wannabee cowgirl Corinne Joy Brown met the ladies of the WRRA, she knew something big was up: women making history on horseback. She couldn't wait to tell the rest of the world. Now, you can go see them for yourself.
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