Women riders in the barrel racing, team, breakaway and tie-down roping events are tough, rough and ready competitors. It's not a game, it's a sport with money, recognition and big, flashy buckles at stake.
The women open the contests in the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo first with the Women's Professional Rodeo Association's Cactus Series on Thursday, Aug. 18. The competition includes barrel racing, team roping and tie-down roping. Entries for the sanctioned events closed Monday. However, a special 4-D Barrel Race contest is open to everyone, any age, male or female, and those entries will be taken at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The contests will follow, starting sometime between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Admission is a can of food, which will be donated to the area food banks.
"We expect about 50 contestants this year," said Nancy Jane Hunter of the Turquoise Circuit, which includes rodeos in Arizona and New Mexico.
Admission is free with a can of food, so residents and visitors can cheer on the contestants and help fill the shelves of food banks.
The women with the WPRA earn points in the Payson contests, these points go toward year-end totals to determine ranks for the rodeo season. In addition to the points, $400 is awarded in each event to the top finisher. The money comes from a combination of entry fees and funds provided by Budweiser, the sport's primary sponsor, Hunter said.
The Women's Professional Rodeo Association started in 1948 -- a group of Texas ranch women wanted to add a little color and femininity to the rough-and-tumble sport of rodeo. It is now a computerized association with more than 2,000 members.
The group organized and called itself the Girl's Rodeo Association.
It began with 74 original members with 60 approved contests and a total payout of $29,000.
But some trace the roots of women in rodeo back to Annie Oakley and her participation in the wild west shows put on by Buffalo Bill Cody in the late 1880s.
The sport has evolved into a million-dollar industry with women athletes riding well-conditioned race horses. In 1995, the WPRA had approved barrel races in 800 rodeos sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association with total barrel racing prize money of $3 million.
Another section of the WPRA, which is growing in popularity, is the Wrangler Divisional Tour. Approved barrel races are held throughout the country with the top four money earners from each of the 12 circuits in the United States qualifying for the Divisional Tour Finals held at the same time as the PWRA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas.
So, plan to come out to the Payson Event Center Thursday, Aug. 18 and enjoy the talents of the Annie Oakleys of today.