With Jordan Jo Fabrizio | Photos by Lindsay Gomez
You have a calf, you have a girl, you have a horse, and you have a rope,” says veteran roper and trainer Jordan Jo Fabrizio. “You tie your rope onto your saddle horn. You back into the box and nod for the release of your calf. You chase and rope your calf and the fastest time wins. It’s as simple as that!”
Wanda Bush was the first woman to win a professional roping title and she accomplished that feat in tie-down roping in 1951. Breakaway roping evolved from those early days, so in a sense, breakaway roping is half the tie-down; that is, instead of roping and leaving your mount for the “tie-down” portion, in breakaway roping you remain in your saddle after your catch and get your time when the rope literally breaks away from your saddle horn.
Jordan Jo Fabrizio evolved into breakaway roping naturally. A rider since age 4 and part of a rodeo family, she really didn’t have a choice. “That’s what we did,” she states.
She started team roping early on and by the time she entered college at West Texas A&M University, where she earned her M.B.A. in Business Administration Management, Jordan Jo was all about the breakaway.
“Raymond Hollabaugh was the coach at West Texas A&M,” says Jordan. “He helped me evolve and master the sport. That’s where I really started homing in on it.”
She now serves as the school’s assistant rodeo coach.
Jordan Jo is an important player in the world of rodeo, winning the first-ever Cheyenne Frontier Days Breakaway Championship in 2019 and qualifying for the WCRA Days of 47 and RFD-TV’s The American and Rodeo New York.
Breakaway roping has been around for some time, but in the past couple of years, it has taken on a new meaning.
The first big event offering serious money took place at the Lazy E in Guthrie, Oklahoma, when the WCRA put on their $1 million payout, making breakaway roping a household phrase on the rodeo circuit. It wasn’t long before high profile events like RFD-TV’s The American made it a part of the program, giving women an opportunity to make real money and garner major sponsors and media exposure.
These intended consequences have made a tremendous impact for women in rodeo who quickly realized there weren’t a lot of professional rodeo events to do after college. Now with the big jackpots and added money, women who love to rodeo have a reason to dive all in and many are making a career out of it.
COWGIRL asked Jordan Jo to open the gate for a look at what it takes to get into the sport and what you need to make a serious go.
WHO CAN DO IT?
Assuming you are a reasonably proficient and somewhat athletic horsewoman, you can do this. There is no age limit and opportunities to learn and compete exist across the country—all the way from junior high and high school rodeo to college, local amateur associations, as well as the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA).
You will need a trained—or be willing to train—a performance horse capable of the necessary speed and agility to engage a running calf as well as the temperament to handle the stress and distraction of a typical rodeo arena.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The rules of breakaway are straightforward. The contestant has a rope with a flag at its end that’s tied hard and fast to her saddle horn by way of a nylon string. Upon entering the “box” and backing into position, it is the roper’s responsibility to ready her horse and rope and nod for the release of her calf.
As in tie-down roping, the calf gets a head start, so the roper must not break the barrier until the calf releases it by way of a light rope connecting the calf to the release lever. If she breaks the barrier, it’s a 10-second penalty.
Assuming she doesn’t break the barrier and she catches her calf, the roper will bring her horse to a quick and efficient stop, causing the rope to break away from the saddle horn. This dramatic break away action exposes the flag, alerting the arena judge, sometimes called the flagman or flagger, to stop the clock.
In the case of the bigger events, it’s the fastest time that wins.
Formats of breakaway roping can vary, however, depending on the event producer and include the most common one-head format in which the fastest time wins. But there are also two-, three-, and four-head events in which an aggregate of the overall fastest time wins.
WHAT DO I NEED TO GET STARTED?
Beginners should start from the ground up. You need to learn about the feel of your rope. Everyone is different and some may prefer a lighter or heavier weight rope. Younger kids should start out with a lighter weight rope.
You’ll need a roping dummy. These dummies are essential for horseback and groundwork and can be home-built using 2”x4” wood or pvc piping or can be purchased readymade from most tack-and-feed and online roping supply stores.
Roping a stationary dummy allows you to work on your form, your body position, and your rope position and should be done from both atop your horse and on the ground. It’s a practice you should include in your routine each and every day.
A moving sled dummy is the next progression. Usually pulled by an ATV, sled dummies can help take you to the next level in a controlled environment; however, they can be quite expensive.
When you rope live cattle, there’s not much you can control. With the sled dummy and a reliable partner who can create different scenarios, you can really hone your skills and better equip yourself to expect the unexpected.
WHAT ABOUT MY HORSE?
I would recommend choosing a horse that is on an equivalent level of roping as you are, whether you’re a beginner roper or intermediate roper. You need a horse that knows what he’s doing so that you can learn and build your confidence, then move up accordingly.
I think every roper is going to graduate to higher levels of horses eventually, but I think if you get on a horse that’s too powerful in the beginning, it may be too difficult to progress. That also goes for a horse that is ill-prepared.
The most important thing I’ve learned in my career is horsemanship, and I continue to work on that each and every day. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. You must learn how to ride your horse, get the most out of your horse, and work as a team.
Advancing to live cattle should be approached at your skill level and a level with which you feel comfortable. Beginners should start on slower stock, such as Holstein cattle.
A little bit slower calf can build your confidence in this step-by-step process as you develop. Set some goals and meet those goals on slower cattle—catch ratio, catch percentage—then advance up to a little faster cattle such as Holstein-dairy crosses. Then move up to the beef cattle, which tend to run pretty fast. At a lot of the amateur rodeos and professional rodeos, we rope beef cattle. So, you just need to practice on whatever kind of cattle that you can get, but also up to your roping level.
WHAT ABOUT TRAINING?
There is no substitute for proper training and practice. Having somebody with experience to help you and have a second eye on you is invaluable. Going to roping lessons and roping schools is a big deal. There are opportunities everywhere. You’ll be grouped with ropers at your level, and it will challenge you to step up and continue to advance.
Several top breakaway champions conduct schools throughout the year. Lari Dee Guy’s “Rope Like A Girl” series and Jackie Hobbs-Crawford’s schools can get you where you want to be.
WHAT TOOLS WILL I NEED?
One of the most important parts of the equation is finding a saddle that fits you and your horse. You want to find the correct size, because you’ll need the cantle, which is the back of your saddle, to push you forward. Getting forward in the breakaway is most important. You want to get in the front of your horse as fast as you can, ready to go forward and rope the calf.
Your saddle pad also plays a role and should be selected for its support, durability, and fit. I use the Relentless roping saddle pad by Cactus Saddlery.
Tack choices depend on each horse. Bits are horse-specific as well. My favorite bit is called a Workman. It’s a flat bar bit and pretty versatile. I also use lift or gag bits when appropriate.
Leg protection for your horse is extremely important and necessary. They’re going to run hard, and they’re going to stop hard, so it is important use bell boots, splint boots, and skid boots.
WILL I FIT IN?
Lou Holtz, the motivational former football player and coach, said, “You have to have something to do, something to believe in, someone to love, and something to look forward to.” So, for me, I have a group of people who have supported me, been through blood, sweat, and tears, and if it had not been for them, I wouldn’t keep going. There’s 100 girls wherever you go, doing the same thing and more. Having someone who cares whom you can talk to, having a coach who can push you to your limits and expect more out of you than you expect out of yourself is big.
Ask questions. One of the biggest things I think I didn’t do soon enough was I didn’t ask enough questions because I was intimidated, or I was scared. I didn’t want people to think I didn’t know, but we don’t know, and we all start out at the same place. We’re not born doing this. So, ask questions; get people around who care and want you to succeed.
I’ve been able to travel to a lot of great places, and I’ve met people who have changed my life. I wouldn’t have the people in my life that I have today if it weren’t for roping and rodeo, and so I’m just thankful for that. It’s like a vacation every weekend. You get to go somewhere new, and I’ve been able to go to different states and towns and see things that I probably never would’ve seen, had I not done it. You can do this! JJF
WHERE TO BREAKAWAY
- Women’s Professional Rodeo Association – WPRA – wpra.com
- World Champions Rodeo Alliance – WCRA – wcrarodeo.com
- Rope Like A Girl – Lari Dee Guy – larideeguy.com
- Jackie Hobbs-Crawford – No Limits Clinics – jackiecrawfordroping.com
- Josey Ranch Breakaway Roping Clinic – joseywesternstore.com
- NRS Ranch Clinics – nrsranch.com
- Lari Dee Guy Teaches Dummy Roping Video – larideeguy.com
- Jackie Crawford Elevate Instructional Breakaway Video – nrsworld.com
- WCRA – Stampede at The E – Guthrie, Oklahoma – September 2020
- WCRA All Women’s Rodeo – South Point, Las Vegas, NV – November 2020
- All In Breakaway – The Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, NV, during WNFR 2020
- Rope For The Crown – Plaza Arena, Las Vegas, NV, during NFR 2020
- Fort Worth Stock Show – January 2021
- San Antonio Stock Show – February 2021
- RFD-TV’s The American – Arlington, Texas – March 2021
- Rodeo Houston – March 2021
- Red Bluff Roundup – April 2021
- Rodeo New York – Madison Square Garden – June 2021
- Bob Feist Invitational – Oklahoma – June 2021
- Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo – Wyoming – July 2021