by Peter Mertz
CHEYENNE, the United States, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Jimmi Jo Montera's daddy put her on a horse when she was three. By the age of four, the blonde, pony-tailed girl was roping cattle.
This weekend, some 40 years later, Montera was still in the saddle, thrilling a rodeo crowd as one of the top woman calf-ropers in the country.
Montera made history in 2019 -- joining an elite group of 40 women to "calf-rope" professionally for the first time, at the "Daddy of Them All," the annual Frontier Days rodeo in Cheyenne, capital of the U.S. state of Wyoming.
MONEY AND EARNINGS
Women's calf-roping has been a competitive event in U.S. high schools and colleges for more than a decade, but this week in Cheyenne was the first time women have been able to compete in the event professionally since the first professional rodeo of Prescott, Arizona in 1888.
And that means money.
A 2018 Cowboy Lifestyle Network article listed 25 rodeo cowboys who have made more than 2 million U.S. dollars in the sport, led by calf-roper Trevor Brazil with 6,079,528 U.S. dollars in earnings.
In 2013, Forbes called Professional Bull Riding (PBR) "America's fastest growing sport (economically)" and in 2018, PBR had revenues of 70 million dollars.
In 2016, saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell reeled in 1.1 million dollars at The American rodeo, and prize money and earnings are jumping for performers each year as the sport's popularity continues to climb.
With Women's Breakaway Roping, cowgirls now have an opportunity to make money, show their skills, and enhance the popular sport.
LADIES STEPPING UP
"Breakaway Roping is great for the sport," Montera said. "It's another event besides barrel racing that you can see women participating in the professional rodeos."
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, the Greeley Colorado native explained that prize money offered at the professional level directly affects the ability of many performers to participate.
With the average rodeo performers salary ranging widely from 40,000 to 170,000 U.S. dollars, according to idahopress.com, many competitors struggle to make ends meet.
"Now you can win enough to make it profitable," Montera said, noting that riders must cover considerable expenses to compete in the national rodeo circuit, including costs of trailers and "hauling their horses," and that "now there's much more opportunity to make money."
Cheyenne Frontier Days officials told Xinhua that the 2019 "Ladies Breakaway Roping" competition was the hottest ticket in their 2019 line-up.
"More than 200 women signed up to compete, filling all available slots in less than eight minutes," an official said of the huge interest in the new event.
American-style professional rodeos generally comprise tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, bull riding and barrel racing. Now there's a new event in town.
"Breakaway is where you rope the calf, and the rope is tied to the horn (on the saddle) with a string, and when you rope the calf your horse stops, the rope breaks, and that's your time," Montera said.
"It's different from what the men do, where they need to get down off the horse and tie their calf -- it's a pretty quick event," she said of the men's "steer wrestling" event.
Women are not new to rodeo. Prairie Rose Henderson debuted at the Cheyenne rodeo in 1901, and, by 1920, women were competing in rough stock events, relay races and trick riding. In 1928, barrel racing became the first professional sport for women on horseback.
In 2019, "Breakaway" became the second. The sport electrified the more than half million who attended the 10-day 123rd annual Cheyenne event.
"Rodeo" defines America's Western culture -- a sporting event involving horses and other livestock, designed to test the skill and speed of the cowboys and cowgirls.
Although practiced in Australia, New Zealand and many countries in the Americas, rodeo's roots in America are deep -- dating back to scattered competitions with Mexican caballeros in the 1820s.
Rugged pioneers who settled America's West relied on horses for transportation and survival, and cattle became their business and specialty. The tightly-knit rodeo community today has many descendants of these 19th-century settlers.
Today the sport is wildly popular in most U.S. states west of the Mississippi River, with Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, Oregon, Montana and California leading the pack.
The historic 2019 Cheyenne Frontier Days, the first-ever pro women's calf roping, was won by South Dakota's Syerra Christensen, a 25-year-old, who made 4,406 U.S. dollars for a 4.01 second run. And soon enough, Montera's name will lead these competitions. It's in her blood.
Montera and her husband invite friends over -- not for dinner -- but for "roping parties." They live on a ranch in northern Colorado, not far from the Wyoming border, and their sons attend the University of Colorado in nearby Boulder.
Unlike bull riding and bronc riding, where competitors are mostly young men in their early twenties, men's calf-roping champions are usually older -- in their 30s and 40s -- and the highest paid performers in the business.
Women's calf-roping is no different. Experience prevails, and Montera is a name to be seen soon and often in calf-roping competitions.
In Cheyenne, Montera finished out of the money in seventh place, the "luck of the draw," as insiders say.
But Montera had a unique place.
Few competitors have taken a break from the sport to have two sons -- now both 6-5 inch basketball players -- and Montera only recently switched to calf-roping from women's team roping.
"It's probably been 20 years since I practiced really hard for Breakaway -- but there's so much more to it now -- it's a good opportunity," she said.
Montera sent a personal message to women who might consider calf-roping as a sport.
"Don't limit yourself -- whatever your passion is over there, whether it be roping or another sport -- go for it," she said with a smile.