PENDLETON — Gracie Wiersma has been a cowgirl her entire life. Growing up on a ranch in Outlook, Washington, she has been roping for as long as she can remember.
On Wednesday at Round-Up Stadium, Wiersma and seven other women made Round-Up history and competed in the first ever breakaway roping event held at the rodeo. It is a form of calf roping featuring one mounted rider where a calf is roped, but not thrown or tied.
The exhibition event included three other Washingtonians, two Oregonians and two riders from Idaho. It is the only other event at the Round-Up, besides barrel racing, that features all-female competitors.
Wiersma clocked the best time of the day, a new arena record at 2.5 seconds, but her ride wasn’t without some drama.
“Oh my goodness, I was so nervous when I backed in the box,” she said reflecting on her performance. “Everybody was telling me don’t back the horse in the corner, which is way opposite than any other rodeo.”
Not used to this setup, her horse of six years nervously paced the small area they were to start in. It took two cowboys to come and help position the horse correctly, which gave Wiersma even more anxiety.
“I was freaking out because my horse wouldn’t sit still,” she said. “After all that went on I started getting mad that my horse wasn’t sitting still and I was ready to rope my calf.”
Whatever nerves Wiersma had quickly dissipated once she entered the grass infield, as she roped her calf 0.6 seconds faster than her competitors.
The excitement garnered from her ride could make this event a staple in future Round-Up schedules — something that would mean everything to the cowgirl.
“Breakaway has always been a very underrated sport and I think it’s a perfect time for it to get big,” Wiersma said.
Pendleton local Danyelle Williams also made her debut on Wednesday. Although it wasn’t the ride she was expecting.
Williams was prepared to give Pendleton a performance that would bring it to its feet. She had done everything she could, even switching out her horse to the best possible outcome on the grass. Instead, she barely made it out of the box as the calf she was paired with slowed down to almost a complete stop when its hooves touched the infield and recorded no time.
Despite the tough break, Williams was still excited to be part of such a momentous event.
“It’s amazing. We’re making part of history,” she said. “This is a small step, but hopefully one day they will have it in the NFR.”
Williams’ has always hoped to compete center stage at the Round-Up.
“I have always wanted to barrel race here,” Williams said. “But I final got to breakaway and that’s a dream come true.”
After breakaway roping, cowgirls wouldn’t take to the arena again until the day was nearly complete. Once again the field had a Pendleton native.
Emily Jayne Sorey was the last cowgirl to compete in the barrel race. She was up against some tough competition on the unique barrel racing track. Four sub-30 second times were already recorded, and Carmel Wright of Roy, Montana, had the best ride at 29.47 seconds.
Sorey started on the dirt and to the loud applause of the crowd. The cheers got even louder as Sorey and her horse rounded the first barrel in record time and then the second. The crowd was going wild as the announcer egged them on when Sorey approached the third and final barrel. As her horse curved to the left, it struggled to find traction in the dirt, and stumbled into the barrel, which resulted in a five second penalty. Sorey’s time of 34.68 was the slowest of the day and will not be enough to see her again on Saturday.
“You know, (the horse) is amazing,” Sorey said breathless after the final ride of the day. “I sinked home into that first barrel and as soon as he made it, I knew that we had it. I could see the whole run this year unlike last year and I knew when we were hauling into that third barrel I looked up to the clock and we were so short. He was right there with him and he did the best that he could. I can’t be upset about it, that’s for sure.”
Now with the addition of breakaway roping, Sorey looks forward to returning and maybe even entering her name in the newest Round-Up event.
“I think it’s great how welcoming they have been about it,” she said. “I look forward to a day when I can compete in it.”
Contact Alexis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.
Breakaway Roping Results
1. Gracie Wiersma, 2.5 seconds; 2. Michelle Lyons, 3.1 seconds; 3. Kelsey Nonella, 3.2 seconds; 4. Candida Eldridge, 5.4 seconds