SPORTS - "Breakaway roper eager to share sport"

TREMONTON - Ellen Cook, Headliner Media Specialist, August 12, 2021

Megan Burbidge - Courtesy photo

Hey, Golden Spike Rodeo fans! Get ready to enjoy “the new kid on the block” as women’s breakaway roping joins the prime-time lineup at this year’s nightly performances, August 26-28. More than 95 cowgirls are ready to throw a loop around some big-time prize money, 40 of them in front of cheering crowds during the Box Elder County Fair.

It has been a long road bringing this event into the limelight, according to fairground employee Megan Burbidge of Tremonton. She should know. Burbidge has been catching calves since she could hold a rope. She is currently leading the Wilderness Circuit divisionals in breakaway roping and, with the help of Fair Board president, Jan Rhodes, was instrumental in having the sport join barrel racing on the Golden Spike schedule of rodeo events geared to women.

Burbidge said the sport has had a minor role with Golden Spike in the past, with cowgirls being able to compete in the Wednesday night rodeo or in the slack (where entries compete during off-hours and not in front of the big crowds).

“We have never been in the actual performances,” she said. “And I have pushed like heck to get it in the performances for us here.” She said time always seemed to be the issue previously, but this year the rodeo committee has reworked the other events to allow for breakaway roping to be included.

The sport is simply women’s version of calf roping. “If you have seen calf roping,” Burbidge said, “the easiest way to explain this sport is we are like a calf roper except when we rope it, we are done. You rope the calf; the rope breaks away and that’s it.”

A small piece of cotton string is attached to the end of the rope, as well as to the saddle horn, Burbidge noted. “When you rope your calf, your horse stops, and the rope breaks off at your horn.”

Because that action can be so quick, Burbidge said she tries to keep her time well under three seconds. “Two flat is a good time but pretty much if you are not 2.6 or 2.7 you are not winning a check anywhere. And that’s tough when there’s usually a hundred girls roping everywhere we go.”

Megan Burbidge - Courtesy photo

Breakaway roping is really nothing new, according to Burbidge, it is just new to the professional rodeo scene.

“In the last three years breakaway roping has grown so much,” she said. “I think it just took the right person to push it. Now certain committees have decided this is cool and we’re in some of the biggest rodeos. I’ve been in Cheyenne, been to Reno, all over the Wilderness Circuit, actually. It is such a growing thing and the crowds like something new.”

Burbidge said its popularity is evidenced by the fact that sign-up numbers for the new event are soaring higher than all other entries. “That just goes to prove how much it has grown. I think by next year we will be in almost all the rodeos.”

And that’s just fine with this 24-year-old whose life-long rodeo passion took her from Bear River High School and small-town arenas to South Plains College in Texas on scholarship. Back then, however, it was goat tying that topped her list of favorites. A return to Utah State University to finish up her degree in Animal Vet Science and become an equine dentist also rekindled her love for roping.

Breakaway roping now fills every spare minute of her time, whether it is honing her skills in the practice pen after work or perfecting and correcting her horses’ (she has three) abilities. Then there are the hours and days “sleeping on the road and lots of long night drives” headed to and from every rodeo and jackpot she can find. In the summer that means bouncing from the Dakotas to Oregon and Arizona to Montana. Burbidge said she takes something away every time she is entered, successful or not.

Megan Burbidge - Courtesy photo

“I just love it,” she grinned. “You want to go. It’s a drug, almost. It’s a high when you do good, and it pays off. There are some weeks when you don’t do worth a dang and you want to go home and not go again but you’ve got to go the next day. You’ve got one day at home then you’ve got to pack up and you’re off again and your mind better be ready for it cuz there’s no stopping. I guess you could give up – but you lose if you give up. And you can’t do that! You either win or you learn.”

She plans to bring that enthusiasm for the sport she loves to the Golden Spike Rodeo this year and is entered up in Saturday night’s show. She is excited to share this new professional sport with the local fans and invites them to “come and watch and enjoy,” and, of course, cheer her on. “I always seem to do pretty good here, knock on wood.”

***Just a side note – Crowds can also cheer her on during the rest of the rodeo as Burbidge will swap out her cowboy hat for a work hat. She will be the one on the tractor, smoothing out the arena during events.

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