Prof. John Nelson
July 6, 2001
How has Rodeo Accommodated Women?
Rodeo began as early as the western heritage itself. Unlike most sports
rodeo was not formed from a type of relaxing past time. Rodeo evolved from
the breaking of young horses to be ridded as ranch horses and the roping of
cows and calves to be doctored or branded in the pasture.
The word rodeo comes from the Spanish language and means a round up or to
surround. Following this definition would lead to the fact that rodeo or
round ups have been taking place since the early 1500s when the Spanish
brought cattle and horses to America. Since this has been brought to the
attention of the Prescott Rodeo Committee they have done extensive research
and brought about certain criteria that must be met in order to have a
1. There must be a set committee to plan and stage the rodeo.
2. Cowboys or Cowgirls must be invited to compete.
3. Admission must be charged to get into watch the rodeo.
4. Prizes and trophies must be awarded to top competitors
5. The contest or rodeo must be documented
Having met all of the above criteria the 1888 Prescott Frontier Days was the
first rodeo. At the time of the rodeo there was only 12 competitors (all
male) and $700.00 prize money. Today over $100,000 are awarded and over 500
male and female contestants.
Tired of not being recognized or supported in 1945 the rodeo cowboys set up
the Cowboys Turtle Association in order to gain recognition of their sport.
In the next thirty years to come the name of the Association would change
twice to finally become the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Barrel Racing, the first and only women's event, in the PRCA, was added in
1959. Barrel racing is an event in which the female competitor rides top
quality aggressive horses running around three barrels in a cloverleaf
pattern. It is a fast paced exciting event that takes fast horses that can
turn quickly. This was the first actual event for women to be added to the
PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association). Even though records date
back over 100 years showing that a few women tamed bucking horses right
along side of the men.
Women of the Wild West date back to the early settlers. For the most part
women did the housework and stayed with the children while the men would
break wild horses to ride. This was their roll they were not to do the
farming or the hard work outside. However there were a few that did not
follow this roll, such as Annie Oakley and Poker Alice, these women were
found playing poker and riding the Wild West with the men. It was women
like them who paved the way for women in the western heritage to break their
own horses and become a part of the PRCA and later the Women's Professional
Pictures have been found dating back to the early 1900s portraying women
riding Saddle Bronc horses. These women came from ranching families and
brought certain femininity to the world of rodeo. Now there is the WPRA
(Women's Professional Rodeo Association) this association has over 70
sanctioned events and over 120 members. The events include bull riding and
bareback bronc riding, breakaway roping along with tie down calf roping.
There is now a Women's National Finals Rodeo, where top competitors meet and
compete against one another for top honors in their event. This event pays
out over $50,000 dollars. Women seem to score just as well as the men in
these events even though there is not as much money at stakes for the women.
For example in the Bareback bronc riding 100 points can be earned. 25 from
how well the horse performs and 25 for how well the rider rides, from each
of the two judges. In Sheridan, WY Aleisha Thompson scored 64 points on
here bareback ride, while Buddy Gulley scored a 73 on his ride in Ponca, NE.
There are only a few points difference, but with fewer competitors and less
sponsors in the female events it seems to even out the odds.
The younger generation, however: has a better opportunity for more events.
The 4-H rodeo program ranges in ages from 8 to 19 and has equal events for
boys and girls. Prizes such as trophy belt buckles and other prizes are
awarded. The High School level also has equal events for each gender. Most
of these rodeos give gold belt buckles for the winners of these events.
These kids are the future of professional rodeo as they grow and compete at
a state and national level learning sportsmanship and making friends that
will last forever.
As young rodeo athletes grow and advance to higher levels the number of
events seems to decrease for the females. In the amateur state levels such
as the South Dakota Rodeo Association women only have three events, then as
they advance to the professional level the women only have one event unless
they go into the WPRA.
Rodeo is an expensive hobby; the travel alone is very costly. A rodeo
contestant today may have to travel from Texas to Canada and California to
Tennessee to rodeo within the summer. The entry fees are also expensive to
enter one event may cost well over 100 dollars.
Rodeo is not the only sport that is having trouble accommodating women;
there has been a recent controversy over women bullfighters in Spain. A
young woman by the name of Cristina Sanchez is one of a select few women who
have began to enter the profession of bullfighting in Spain.
Another popular sport that is having a hard time letting women in seems to
be horse racing. Controversy has arisen over women racehorse trainers. A
quote from William F. Reed author of an article in the September 24, 1990
issue of Sports Illustrated says " The main thing a woman has to understand
about being a horse trainer is that its' a man's game." Dianne Carpenter is
a horse trainer struggling to hold her place in this man's game.
It is not only rodeo that is having a difficult time accommodating women but
these other sports too. Why is this? Do these men that are running the
show think that women are not strong enough mentally or is it physical
strength that is holding women back? Dianne Carpenter watched a 2-year-old
colt being destroyed after a warm up accident at Churchill Downs, she cried
then went on with the day. Do these tears make her weak? She still went on
about her day not letting it affect her training the other horses.
I do not think that just because a woman cries when her companion, the
2-year-old colt is destroyed this means she is weak. A woman can do
whatever she is mentally and physically capable of doing. There should be
no boundaries put on her. If a woman thinks that she can compete at a
professional level with the men she should be able to. There should be no
restrictions or rules to stop her.
Since the WPRA has opened it's doors and let women into the rodeo world,
women have been more accommodated in the sport of rodeo. Not only rodeo is
opening new doors for women. Many outdoor activities are supporting women.
Women's Professional Rodeo Association homepage June 6, 2001
Prescott Info homepage May 25, 1998 <<http://www.prescottinfo.com>>
Freed, William F. "Stalled at the Starting Gate: for Women Racehorse
Trainers, the Barriers are up." Sports Illustrated September 24, 1990 v73
n13 p20-23. Online Posting
Smith, Gary "A Woman's Place" Sports Illustrated March 9, 1992 v76, n13,
p120-129 Online Posting
Professional Cowboys Rodeo Association homepage July 5,2001