In search of opportunities, a cowgirl takes to the road
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Jackie Crawford was six months pregnant when she won the roping breakaway title at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association National Final in December 2020. The sport’s calves typically tuck their shirts up to reveal their belt buckles, but when Crawford got in, she let her shirt hang loose over her stomach for comfort.
In an interview with Wrangler, the event’s sponsor, following her victory, Crawford mentioned the unborn baby girl she had previously named Journey.
“It’s an amazing journey that I’m going to be on, and the little Journey will be there too,” she said. “She was kicking me today, so she was horny.”
Two months after giving birth in March this year, Crawford, 39, hit the road again for a full season of rodeo competitions with baby Journey and her 4-year-old son, Creed, in tow. Her husband, retired tail-maker Charly Crawford, stayed at home in Stephenville, Texas with daughter Kaydence.
Rodeo athletes typically spend the summer racking up prizes at local events in order to qualify for the year-end National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas, a competition between the top 15 athletes from each discipline in what is considered the Super Bowl of the rodeo world.
Women have limited opportunities in sport. The Rope Break – in which runners throw a breakaway lasso around a calf released from a fall – and barrel races are the only individual events open to them. In fact, the 2020 season was the first since 1959 in which the PRCA – which sanctioned local rodeo competitions – included the string breakaway in its annual finals, albeit as a separate paid event. So far, only one of its seven events, the barrel race, has included women competing alone.
And the financial rewards for women are often low. By the end of the 2021 season in September, for example, Crawford had won $ 36,200 at the PRCA rodeos, which landed her in the finals. By comparison, the bull riders, who are all male, would have earned at least $ 100,000 en route to qualifying.
But the fact that the roping break is now included in the rodeo of National Finals and other rodeos indicates that the perception of it as a niche event in the rodeo world is changing.
And Crawford, although she hasn’t repeated her championship title this year, finishing sixth, is determined to ride the wave.
“This season has been long and financially very difficult, but we have made some great memories,” she said. “And I felt good to be able to win a world championship, take a few months off, come back and still do the NFR – that was a big accomplishment for me.”
“But we’re going to keep pushing until the PRCA places us everywhere as a standard event with an equal price.”
Earlier this year, The New York Times met Crawford at a few stops on his trip, including a rodeo in Alvarado, Texas. In a busy life on the road, Crawford has found peace astride a horse. The pressures and stress melted away as she bided her time in the arena. His mind calmed down. His nerves stabilized. And then, with a nod, the calf was released and she left, raising dust behind her.
In a lasso breakaway, the faster the calf is caught, the better the competitor’s ranking. Everything happens at lightning speed. The rider tries to lasso the calf as it is released from the chute, so a winning time may be less than 2 seconds. Crawford’s best performance this year was in Fort Worth, TX, catching the calf in 1.6 seconds for a prize of around $ 3,000. Here Crawford leaps forward on his horse, Uber.
Crawford first participated in a roping event at the age of 12. She continued to compete in high school and college, winning five regional and national college championship titles by the time she graduated in 2005. Away from the competitive arena.
“In generations past, unless women wanted to compete for pennies on the dollar, their lassoing careers ended after college,” said Kendra Santos, rodeo reporter and former communications director for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “They just had to do it for the love of the game.”
Crawford continued, racking up 20 world championship titles, including in the team rope events and his historic victory in the national finals last year. Above, Crawford puts on the 2020 award belt buckle.
“She’s one of those people who have been preparing for a long time to be great at something that didn’t have a lot of motivation at the end of the line,” said Bobby Mote, a bareback champion. “She kept showing up every day.”
While the prize money for escaped rope access technicians is low, the costs for a cowgirl to compete can be high as they have to transport their horses across the country with them. (The bull and bronco riders receive random cattle at the event site and often take to the road together, spreading the costs.) The costs of the pen, gasoline and animal care on the site route add up.
Crawford typically travels with four of her horses, T-Boy, Kevin, Roulette and Leroy, attached to a bus she bought at the start of the season. Above, she prepared Uber (which she later sold) for the Alvarado Fast Track Qualifier.
Crawford was teaching a rope class one evening in March when she experienced a few cramps. She hasn’t given them much thought. It wasn’t until after class that she realized she was having contractions. She cooked dinner for her family and went to the hospital, where Journey, above, was born.
Five days later Crawford was back on his horses. About a week and a half later, she was competing again and winning.
For the first few months, Journey would wake up all night. Crawford also pumped and breastfed between competitions. She barely slept.
Crawford eventually hired a babysitter to accompany him and bought a bus so his entire crew of eight (his two children, the babysitter, the four horses and his manager) could fit comfortably.
They also adopted an abandoned kitten they had spotted by the side of the road. They named it Skid.
It’s a circus, said Crawford, “but I just don’t think I could physically leave my kids for two months. I prefer to resign.
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