Twenty-four-year-old Peggy Garman spent her early years horseback on a ranch in Sundance, raised on rodeoing. At 6 years old, she won her first all-around title and her love for the sport only grew.
Garman was ranked 57th in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association 2020 Pro Rodeo Breakaway World Standings as of June 14 2021, and will bring those talents to the Sheridan WYO Rodeo for the event’s debut of women’s breakaway roping.
Garman was thrilled to see women’s breakaway roping on the schedule for Sheridan for the first time — high school rodeos in the area were one of her favorites to attend — and despite the coronavirus forcing the cancellation of last year’s rodeo, Garman’s excitement hasn’t waned.
The Sheridan arena, setting and pace suit Garman’s roping style, and she suspects her competitors’ excitement for breakaway roping at the WYO Rodeo has increased with the delay of its debut.
“[Breakaway roping] has grown exponentially in such a short period of time,” Garman said. “I think it’s just going to get bigger and better.”
Though Sheridan was among the first to approve WPRA breakaway roping in the mountain state circuit, the sport was around long before premiering in professional arenas.
Breakaway roping is a variation of calf roping, however the calf is not tied or thrown during the event. The event features a competitor on horseback racing after a calf when it is released from a spring-loaded chute. The calf gains a head start, and the rider attempts to throw a rope around its neck as quickly as possible.
The rope the rider uses to subdue the calf is tied to the horn of the saddle by a string, and the calf eventually reaches a point when it runs out of rope. When the rope is pulled tight, it breaks the string, thus ending the run. A flag made from bandana or white cloth is usually connected to the end of the rope to allow the judge, often called a flagger, to see the exact moment a run has ended.
Sheridan College’s assistant rodeo coach Kelsey Ferguson started roping when she started riding and pointed to the event’s harmless nature and its speed as reasons why the event has grown in popularity recently, and she plans to compete at the WYO Rodeo, as well.
Growing up, Garman competed in barrel racing, pole bending and breakaway roping. She attended her first breakaway roping clinic around age 8 but didn’t find her true passion for the event until 2010, when she “caught the bug” and chose roping over all other events.
She was drawn in by the individuality of the event — how she could connect with her horse and “finesse” her skills to get the perfect quick, snappy run, filled with adrenaline.
Just as the event pulled in Ferguson and Garman, it intrigued WYO Rodeo organizers.
WYO Rodeo Board President Billy Craft said as the board looked for event additions, everyone with whom he spoke loved women’s breakaway roping — a fast, exciting event with no stress on the animals. Female rodeo participants are “hungry” for places to rope, and he was happy to provide an additional chance to compete.
At the WYO Rodeo, the competition will be structured as a two-header — a progressive event where, if a competitor misses in her first event she will not move on to the second event, with the 10 fastest competitors moving on to the evening’s performance and the remaining qualified cowgirls roping after the performance.
Entries are limited to 90 participants this year in the interest of time and cost.
Women breakaway ropers are competing for $4,000 added money in the event this year if sponsorships come through by the end of May — one-third of added money in other events because of the nature of the “young event,” Craft said.
“The event is still in its infancy, across the board,” Craft said. “... We’re going to see how it goes, what kind of response we get and what the fans think of it. We’re hoping the thing takes off and becomes a bigger draw than even the calf roping.”
In some circuits, women can now compete for the same amount of money as cowboys who travel year-round and compete in breakaway roping for a living, Garman said.
Garman attributes her foundational roping skills and strong horsemanship to Jerry Golliher, who led the first breakaway roping clinic she attended.
With her height, long arms and clear eyes, Garman was built to rope, Golliher said. He raised the horses she competes with but Garman trained them mostly on her own. The subtlety in her horsemanship makes a noticeable difference for Garman, though Ferguson pointed out a slower horse doesn’t eliminate a cowgirl from contention.
Unlike barrel racing, an event primarily dependent on the speed of a horse, breakaway roping competitors can compensate for a slower horse with their superior roping technique and/or by drawing a slow calf.
Though competitive, Garman’s relationships with girls and young women who dominate events at amateur rodeos, especially breakaway roping, have only strengthened through the decades with the inevitable camaraderie of the sport.
“You’re competing against the animal that you drew,” Garman said. “Sure, you’re competing against your friends but when it comes down to it, it’s who can make the best run on the animal that they drew that day.”
Because most cowgirls and cowboys begin their rodeo careers learning how to rope and because breakaway roping mentors have worked for the past several years to bring the event to national attention and fostered the camaraderie Garman speaks of, Ferguson suspects the event will be the most popular at rodeos like the WYO Rodeo in the near future.
Looking back, the journey from committing to breakaway roping to competing at the professional WYO Rodeo calls for hard work and sacrifices, as with any other event, Garman said. In high school, many people didn’t understand why she wanted to commit such time and dedication to roping and working with her horses instead of enjoying a football game.
For the years of practice and time she’s spent working with her horses, Garman feels some added pressure with the possibility of winning more money, but similar to barrel racing, she said there isn’t a noticeable difference in the expectation for her to perform well as a woman in the event.
Competing and responding to the public’s interest in the event feels like a step forward, regardless of Garman’s finish in the WYO Rodeo.
“I think it’s very rewarding to see women finally getting the recognition of all the hard work that they have put in,” Garman said. “And the older ladies before me that have really been pushing for breakaway roping to finally get put on a stage.”
Those trailblazers gave young competitors a chance to be inspired by successful rodeo women other than barrel racers.
Five years ago, Garman would have never expected she would rope at a PRCA-sanctioned event. Young women can now take advantage of new opportunities coming every season, thanks to experienced women who set the stage, along with rodeos like the WYO Rodeo who recognize the event.
“Knowing there’s another event for women to compete in at pro rodeos is very exciting,” Garman said. “I think the fan interaction with how fast breakaway is adds another exciting event for the rodeo fan to watch. I think that added excitement will push breakaway further.”