Special Events

Women's Breakaway Roping Expands to a Full Event at the 2023 RodeoHouston

Fan-favorite breakaway roper, Jackie "JJ" Hampton, will return to RodeoHouston following her victory in Houston's first-ever breakaway roping competition last year.
Fan-favorite breakaway roper, Jackie "JJ" Hampton, will return to RodeoHouston following her victory in Houston's first-ever breakaway roping competition last year. Photo by Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
The guitar that Jackie “JJ” Hampton won at last year’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Super Series 1 sits displayed in her real estate office.

“It is one of the coolest things I have ever won, I mean we get buckles and things like that all the time, but how special is a guitar?” Hampton said.

Hampton is a veteran breakaway roper who was the first to win a Super Series after women’s breakaway roping debuted as an event in last year’s RodeoHouston. Breakaway roping involves a single rider attempting to successfully rope a calf. Unlike calf-roping, the calf is not thrown and tied after it is caught by the rider.

In the first year of this event, breakaway roping was only included in a single Super Series, giving contestants one shot at the cash prize. However, during the planning stages of this year’s rodeo, the executive committee approved expanding the event, giving Hampton and her fellow roping contestants the ability to participate in all three rounds of the Super Series.

“Last year was like a test, we wanted to make sure that by adding an event like this we had all our ducks in a row and that we had a way to get the contestants in the stadium and exposed to Houston,” Katelyn Scates Director of Sports and Event Presentation at Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo said. “Now, the event’s format is going to be exactly the same as every other event and that means providing the contestants with more opportunity and putting more money on the table for them.”

Now that breakaway roping is a part of the full program, instead of a 7-day run, ropers will compete for 20 consecutive days. Not only are the ropers provided with a better chance to get to the championship – which includes a $50,000 payout, they will also gain more exposure on the grounds of the NRG stadium.

This exposure is significant to women’s breakaway ropers, because although the sport was established on the collegiate and amateur level well over 30 years ago, it only recently cemented itself on the professional level.

“When this fight for women’s breakaway roping began in 2019, we started off with maybe 60 professional rodeos including it in their programs and just last year we were at 370,” Heidi Schmidt Vice President of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association said. “And now we expect over 400 professional rodeos to have it included this year, so the growth has been positive, and it’s been quick, but is still growing.”

Before breakaway roping hit the professional level in 2019, barrel racing was the only event for women to participate in at this level of competition, Schmidt said.

“When I graduated college, I would have called myself a breakaway roper, but there was no opportunity to progress onto the professional level and for me that was always something I strived for,” Schmidt said. “Wanting to participate in rodeos professionally, turned me into a barrel racer and that’s why I think this opportunity to have the breakaway roping at professional rodeos became a passion for me.”

Schmidt said that without rodeos like Houston deciding to incorporate women’s breakaway roping in their full programs – not only is there less of an opportunity for younger women breaking into the sport – there is no stage for veteran ropers to shine at a higher level.

“With partners like Houston, who are able to have our events shine and have people like JJ Hampton or Joey Williams on television, they’re showcasing the sport and allowing the development of another women’s event in rodeo,” Schmidt said. “That commitment is going to have a very big trickle-down effect on the rest of the rodeo industry.”

Additionally, by including the women’s breakaway roping in the rodeo’s full program, RodeoHouston is also providing added pay for the contestants. In Hampton’s experience, this is not always the case for every rodeo she has competed in.

“It’s important for us to be able to still afford this and keep going and Houston has given us this opportunity by putting us in the rodeo and letting us run those three rounds as well,” Hampton said.

According to Scates, each Super Series win includes a $3,000 pay out; if a contestant wins the Semifinals that adds another $3,000 to their wins. The next stage is the Wild Card, which also results in a $3,000 pay out — however a contestant cannot win both the Semifinals and Wild Card.

With the $50,000 championship payout, if a contestant were to win every round, she could collect up to $62,000, Scates said.

Hampton will be returning to defend her Super Series win and take a chance at the championship, among 39 other contestants from Texas as well as several other states including South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

“I just love the sport and I love the people. It's come a long way and I think fans like to see that women do more than just running barrels,” Hampton said. “Last year, Houston told us that it was a test pilot and they said if it went well, they’d have us back and lookie here, we’re back.”

The 2023 Houston Livestock and Rodeo runs from February 18 through March 19. 
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Faith Bugenhagen is on staff as a news reporter for The Houston Press, assigned to cover the Greater-Houston area.