Cowgirls Against The Clock

RODEO REVIEW

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A woman and her horse must truly be of one mind to win at tie-down roping, barrel racing, break-away and team roping, the four competitive events of the Women's Professional Rodeo circuit.

At 6 p.m., Thursday, May 18 the women of the 2006 Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo will compete at the Payson Event Center.

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Barrel racing shows off the skills of the rider and her horse. The contestants and their horses spend hours training to run the barrels in a matter of seconds.

"We have quite a few world champions who we expect to enter," said LeighAnn Billingsley, event co-producer.

"I love it all, but (tie-down) roping is my favorite event," competitor Kim Williamson said. "No doubt about it.

"When I set the run up, I have to be in perfect position on my horse," she said.

"He has to go from 0 to 60 as fast as he can, then stop as hard as he can, so I can jump off as fast as I can (and rope the calf's legs)."

When Williamson started out competing, she was clocking 19 seconds for the event.

"My progress has been cool," said Williamson. She has shaved a consistent 10 seconds off that time.

Generally times range from 10 to 15 seconds for the event Billingsley said.

"I can't speak for other competitors, but I focus on a training program that consists of more than just roping," Williamson said.

El Torro Doc (a.k.a. Cutter) is her No. 1 horse. She trained him herself and has been competing with him for seven years.

"We went through some serious bumps in the road," she said.

Williamson is the current "all around," which means she has entered at least two events at each rodeo on the circuit and has earned the most points with her times.

The purses in women's rodeo pale to the thousands of dollars the men win.

The amount a woman can win depends on the number of entrants (cost is $50 per event). $200 is added to each purse.

"I really have to thank my sponsors," Williamson said. "They enable me to compete."

In barrel racing there are pretty runs and there are wild runs as horse and rider race around three barrels placed like an isosceles triangle before the dash to the finish line.

"The sport is 89 percent horse; 11 percent rider," said competitor Jan Beeler.

At times that are only hundredths of a second apart it is all about the speed.

The 11 percent comes from how well the rider sits and handles a horse and how willingly the horse accepts cues.

"There are horses that crave running barrels," she said. "It's a horse race and there is no room for error."

The other two events of women's rodeo are breakaway roping and team roping.

Breakaway roping lasts 1 to 2 seconds.

The event's initial competitors were high school-age girls and college-age women.

For it, a rope is tied to the saddle horn by a string; you rope the calf and it breaks away from the string.

"It was created as another event before women tied down calves," Billingsley said.

When the steer leaves the chute for the team roping event, two women follow. One ropes the horns of the steer; the other, the legs.

Times average between 9 and 12 seconds.

Payson's Spring Rodeo is one of about 20 women's pro rodeos across the United States.

Billingsley and her sister, Nancy Jane Hunter, have produced women's rodeo for both the Spring Rodeo and August Doin's for many years.

"All the way back to when we were using the other arena -- probably over 15 years in Payson -- when there was no May rodeo," Billingsley said.

The people in the town, the rodeo commission and all the volunteers keep them coming back.

"We come from a rodeo background and a rodeo family," she said. "We used to do junior rodeos with Bill Armstrong's kids and we all grew up together. We've competed in the Payson rodeo through the years."

Something new

This year the producers have planned two exhibitions for riders who have younger horses or not a lot of experience themselves.

The first will be at 4 p.m. Thursday and the second at the end of the women's competition.

"Exhibition riders pay $3 per event and do not win a prize," Billingsley said. "It is more of a practice."

Women's Rodeo

6 p.m. Thursday, May 18 at the Payson Event Center

Admission is a can of food for the local food bank.

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