The Buddy Group and the WPRA

Nov 18, 2022

The Buddy Group and the WPRA

I couldn’t talk about the buddy system without including the barrel racers and breakaway ropers. There are so many differences in how each even strategizes their rodeo road and it couldn’t be more evident than with the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association events. 

And there are the similarities too. Travel with people that have the same goals, mindset and moral compass. It makes life on the road and in close quarters so much easier. I’ve driven a lot of miles through the years and have yet to see a rodeo contestant with all of their stuff on the side of the road because the rest of the rig kicked them out. Not saying it hasn’t happened, just that it is more likely to happen at the rodeo grounds. 

Buddying with women, wow. It’s hard to imagine a group of women in a truck 200 days out of the year chasing gold buckles. That is exactly what has happened with the breakaway roping this year. With the growth of the event, more rodeos including it on their schedule, it’s made qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Breakaway Roping (NFBR) very challenging. 

First of all, they didn’t have a rodeo count, meaning they could count as many rodeos as they could get to for their world standings. Other events cap that number. Capping it would affect the competition for the breakaway ropers because they didn’t know which rodeos were adding the event where other events are either standard or established with a committee. 

So they started out the year going where they could, planning where they hoped they could go and finishing with what they could get too. Erin Johnson from Fowler, Colorado was one of those breakaway ropers. After qualifying for the past two NFBRs and her competitive spirit, talent and equine partners has her going to Las Vegas in the second-place spot. 

Erin Johnson competed at her second Wrangler National Finals Breakaway Roping in Las Vegas in 2021. She will return to Las Vegas in 2022. | WPRA photo by Joe Duty. 

She has traveled by herself (usually with at least one child in tow), with her husband, Darnel, who is a tie-down roper and with other breakaway ropers. The decision of whom to travel with brings out the similarities between rodeo and other sports. The question is: Who do you want on your team?

“Having someone with the same goals and priorities is really important,” she said. “It doesn’t strictly pertain to someone that is roping as good as you are. It boils down to the mental aspect of it. You need someone that is equal in their team commitment.”

That means someone that wants you to win as much as they want to win. Sharing the load is part of that team environment for her too. 

“If you are in the same rig, you have to live with that person. You  can’t feel like they are not for you,” she added. “You have to share the load. If you don’t it can create hard feelings and that doesn’t work for anyone.”

Erin spent part of the summer on the road traveling with Peggy Garman who set the arena record at the 2022 edition of Cheyenne Frontier Days. And while Peggy didn’t have the season that she had hoped for, she was celebrating Erin every step of the way. 

No one was happier when Peggy Garman set the arena record at Cheyenne Frontier Days than Erin Johnson who is in the background videoing. They spent much of the summer traveling to rodeos together. | CFD photo by Jackie Jensen

“A better teammate is one that has a personality that is not threatened by someone else’s success and is not afraid to pull for others,” Erin added. “It’s what makes them a winner.” 

Breakaway ropers can’t buddy with any other events, which makes it impossible for them to buddy with their husbands who might be roping. There are the occasions they will be at the same place and at the same time, but getting up in the same performances is never guaranteed. 

And, then there are the slacks which are often on different days. It’s a problem that barrel racers face and the other challenge of how many horses fit in a trailer. Most of the best barrel racers in the world travel by themselves, but they still might buddy with someone for entering. A group of four is nearly impossible and narrows the odds of winning. 

Ann Thompson who qualified for the NFR in the 1970s in the barrel racing now makes a living by entering rodeo contestants, mostly barrel racers. Those barrel racers are affected by position on the ground, when they enter and they draw that position with the rest of group following. So, if a rodeo has a performance with 12 barrel racers and the first one on the entry list draws position 11, the second will get position 12 and the next two would be moved to a slack. It’s a complicated process that she understands better than most. 

“More than two in a buddy group really complicates things for barrel racers,” she said. “The percentages improve with smaller groups. It’s not just getting the performance that you want, but the position in the rodeo also is affected.

“With high fuel prices, the benefit is splitting expenses,” she added. “A lot of buddy groups come from within their circuit. Even in the California circuit you can cover a lot of miles. Red Bluff to Los Angeles is a long way.” 

Lisa Lockhart had three horses in her trailer most of the year, including at Rodeo Houston, Cutter, Rosa and Levee are all important parts of her team. Bringing three horses doesn’t leave much room in the trailer. | Photo by Susan Kanode

For barrel racers or breakaway ropers finding the right people to compete with and against is a big challenge. And, the whole team has to work together. Even the horses need to get along. They spend a lot of time in the trailer on the road and if they travel well together it is better for everyone. 

In addition, the women of rodeo have the challenge of being moms on the road. Erin missed the Caldwell (Idaho) Night Rodeo in August, which she won a year ago, because it conflicted with her kids’ first day of school. Jessica Routier is a mom of five and she’ll bring part of the family and leave part of them at home.

The challenges are real. Watching these women in and out of the arena makes me appreciate what they do and the support systems behind them even more. I’ve watched a child or two while mom and/or dad competed and I believe rodeo kids are the coolest. The one place that the whole family will be together for these women is Las Vegas! 

My name is Susan Kanode and I am a rodeo fan.