Many of us would have a hard time recalling where we were or what we were doing on January 11 of this year. However, on this particular day in Chicago, competitive breakaway roper Jackie Crawford was busy participating in a monumental breakthrough for women in rodeo. For the first time, the 18-time WPRA world champion (who has amassed a cowgirl-coveted collection of gold buckles) and her female peers were invited to compete alongside the world’s top rodeo athletes in a million-dollar major event, The Windy City Roundup.

And she won.

For those unfamiliar with breakaway, it is essentially the same as traditional roping, but without the tying down of the calf. Additionally, the rope is attached to a string on the saddle horn that snaps once the calf is successfully caught and has run until the rope is stretched taut. Until three months ago, when Jackie herself produced an event for the nation’s top breakaway ropers in Las Vegas, the sport was fragmented, consisting only of regional circuits for women with a shared passion for competition. Now, in a progressive move by the World Champion Rodeo Alliance, the opportunity for breakaway ropers to join the ranks of big time rodeo has become a reality, allowing women to compete for larger prizes and to stay engaged in rodeo beyond their collegiate years.

During a brief break from travel, Jackie spoke with us by phone from her home in Stephenville, Texas. Of course we were inspired by her boundary-busting work ethic, but there were also multiple times at which we were driven to goosebumps and giggles thanks to her matter-of-fact demeanor and ultra-quick wit…because if you think she’s fast with a rope, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

You’ve said you are fueled by three things in particular: winning, being a woman, and horses.  We’d love to hear more!
You know, winning is just a no brainer. Everyone’s felt the satisfaction of winning and being victorious. That’s something that is an addiction.
Being a woman…it fuels me to step outside of the boundaries of what people maybe saw women do before, and I see little girls that I want to have a passion and a drive to do something for themselves — that always sits in the back of my mind with everything I’m doing.
And then the horse thing, that’s just in me. I just love it. I love the process of training, I love the everyday, it’s like trying to put pieces of a puzzle together on each horse. That’s my real passion, and I love that.

What do you tell young girls whom you inspire?
I had a mom come up to me recently, because in an article I had said something about “if you’re going to be a breakaway roper, it might take time, but it doesn’t have to take money.” You don’t have to have all of the fancy things. I didn’t have any of that when I started. We didn’t have a big ring, we didn’t have a living quarters trailer, we didn’t have fancy horses or tack. But if you put the work into it, you can get over all of that; you can overcome that. And this mother said, “I just want you to know how much of a difference that made in my daughter’s life because we don’t have a lot, but we do all we can. We try so hard to give her opportunities and make opportunities, and when she heard you say that she realized that it’s okay to maybe not fit in with that right now.” And stuff like that gets me in my feelers. I’m glad to know maybe that part of it is helping a kid out.

Do you have any advice for your younger self?
I wish my younger self would have been more confident…to do what I wanted to do, and not care what fits in, or what’s cool, or what other people think. I wish I would have been able to carry myself, and have as much respect for myself as I do now. It’s so hard for kids right now to understand that sometimes what’s right isn’t cool, and what’s cool isn’t right. And some kids find their confidence in fitting in instead of finding their confidence in themselves, and knowing what’s right and having core values.

Do you have a specific routine, or something you think about before you go to bed at night, or wake up thinking first thing in the morning?
If you spent one day at my house, you’d know there’s not a whole lot of routine! My head is a crossroads, like you see in the city at an intersection with roads winding on top of each other. I’m not a very scheduled person. I wish I was, and I try to get that way, but it’s a daily struggle for me to try to say, “Alright we’re going to get up, we’re going to work out, we’re going to do this and do that by that time.” And I have a toddler and a teenager on top of it! I might run in circles, but we’re definitely getting stuff done. Things are getting done all day, its just a crazy, chaotic circus around here.

What is your greatest fear?
I don’t want to look back and see any stone unturned. I don’t want to notaccomplish what I’m supposed to accomplish, or what I was put here to do. I have that fear that I won’t do enough, or be enough, or try hard enough, or work hard enough…and almost to a fault, I guess. That’s my biggest fear.

You drop a dollar in the jukebox and choose four songs, what are they?
This is hard for me because I have a wide range of songs! It’s so funny because now I’m so busy, my daughter gets so mad at me because I don’t hardly listen to music. If there is an opportunity to be in silence, I’ll listen to silence! I love music but to have peace and quiet for just a second is nice.
I can tell you the last song I listen to was “Champion” by Carrie Underwood. Well, this is funny and ya’ll are gonna laugh when I tell you, but I also recently listened to Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy.” I go all the way old school country, and all the way back. I just listened to Janice Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” And then I also listen to the new stuff. I’ve been to three Kid Rock concerts. I love Kid Rock!

What is your #1 pet peeve?
Keyboard warriors. People that get on social media and bash things, when they would never do it to someone’s face. I cannot stand that.

What is your greatest indulgence?
I don’t get to indulge in much.  You know what my greatest indulgence is right now? In the morning, sometimes when my little baby wants to just roll over and just hold my neck, I will just stay there. I refuse to move when he does that, because I am not going to miss out on one little second of him putting his little arms around my neck while he’s little and wants to be doing that.

What is your most treasured (non living) possession?
Growing up we never had our own house. When I was younger we did, but we did not have very much money and we just kind of moved around and lived at other people’s places, so I never had my own home. I never had my own arena. So, honestly, just my home. My place. It’s something that is just so special to me. That’s why it’s so hard for me to go anywhere. I get calls to do clinics and things like that, and it’s so hard for me to leave home, because for the first time in my life this is my home. This is ours. We built this, we made this, we own this, and it’s awesome. I could sit here and play with my kids, and ride all day, and that would be ideal for me.

Which talent would you most like to have?
There are a lot of things I wish I could do. I would love to be able to play the guitar. I would love to be able to sing. If I had the time to do anything…I’ve taken a few self-defense classes, so I would love to learn more about martial arts, boxing, things like that. Then I would also love to take hip-hop dance classes!

Quickly tell us something unexpected about you?
I like to scare people. Play pranks. Today I pulled the stuffing out of a huge teddy bear and had someone climb inside, and we pulled one of my friends in and told him we needed something, and that bear had been sitting there on the ground, this big stuffed bear, and he went by it and it jumped up and grabbed his leg and, oh my god, it was the funniest thing! I’m terrible about it. I’m evil!

Also, all of my friends used to call me the PETA President. They would say if I didn’t rodeo I’d be a part of some animal advocacy. I try to save everything. People see me and think, “Oh you rope calves. You must be really tough.” And I’m actually the exact opposite! I cry at the drop of a hat when it comes to an animal. I can’t watch Disney movies because they make me cry. I go around rescuing things. I remember being a little girl and I tried to rescue a litter – I don’t know, can you call it a litter? – of baby mice!

This is a good segue to our next question…how do you reconcile your love of animals with a rodeo sport?
It doesn’t matter if it’s a horse owner or a dog owner. There are good people and bad people. There are people who care for animals even, if they are using them for sport. I use animals for sport, but I’m never going to abuse them, ever. The sport doesn’t make you that way. Either you are or you aren’t. I do wish our sport would apply more things to encourage people to be more compassionate, and maybe put penalties on people who aren’t. But that’s a person problem, not a sport problem. There are people who are taught to have love for things, and taught to respect them.
I mean, my calves have names! I probably know where the calves will eventually end up, but I also know we are all here for a purpose and some things have to happen and it’s a part of life, and it’s a cycle. The thing that brings me peace is knowing that if I have control of those animals, while they are here, I will do the best job I can to protect those animals. Because I know that’s what I was put here for. I know at least I do my part to make their time here enjoyable. I want them to feel loved.

Do you have any pre-competition ritual?
I run late everywhere I go. To everything. Not because I’m a lazy person, and not because I don’t know when I need to leave. I’m late everywhere I go because I have no time management, and I constantly think I can do more than I can before I leave. And I personally think I’m right on time when everyone else thinks I’m late. I don’t like to sit around and have down time. It makes me nervy. It makes me edgy. I’m a terrible pre-game person. I get there right on time. Get on my horse. Get my rope. Get up there. See what I’ve got. And let’s go!

How do you stay in shape for roping? 
The one thing I think might be a little bit different for girls who rope is that we’re trying to emulate what the guys do. If I want to be at the top of my game I’m watching the headers at the top of their game. We don’t have the upper body strength or core strength that a guy naturally has. When I was younger I hauled hay and played sports, but now I really have to concentrate to keep that muscle and core strength. I do a lot of weight lifting and body weight type stuff to be able to ride and rope as good as possible.

What is your favorite stop on your competition circuit?
In the last three months is really when breakaway has really blown up. I actually produced a new roping in Las Vegas and called it Rope to the Crown, because when women are done college rodeo’ing, they kind of disperse. They go to where they marry into, or they have careers, or they have kids, and you go to your respective regions. Women breakaway ropers don’t necessarily have a pro circuit where they go to these certain places all year long and make a living doing it, so what girls end up doing is scattered across the United States at amateur rodeo associations.

I wanted to have a finals that brings all of these girls together, and crowns one champion out of all of them. To me, that’s the top. So we had sixty girls compete that were the best in the world, and it made for amazing roping. It was really cool, and we did it in Las Vegas during the NFR. So that has been one of my favorites so far, because that was the first time we’ve seen that level of talent in the same spot competing against each other. And I’m hoping to get it to grow a lot bigger.

Our audience is very equestrian-centric. Can you tell us how horses have contributed to your success? 
Well, horses are everything. I mean, that’s everything. I was thinking about it last night, as I’m sitting there fixing to rope for $100,000, and looking down at my horse and just thinking how lucky I am to have him, and what he’s enabled me to do, not only for myself, but my family. I’m just sitting there looking at him thinking, “I hope he knows that I know. I hope he knows that I know how lucky I am, and how much he has given me.”
It’s such a balance of finding the right one that wants to work for you. The horse I ride right now that brings in the most money, he doesn’t want to do anything wrong. He wants to do his job, he does it well, and is so forgiving of me. I couldn’t do anything I do without him.

You’ve said you love working with the young horses. What is it about the young ones that really drives you?
It’s like a chess game. I learn as much from them as they learn from me. It’s like trying to unlock the door and find the right key, or a puzzle that is challenging. I love to see the progress. In your seasoned horses that are trained, they know their job and they know how to do it. Young horse don’t understand, so I love seeing the progress in them. I love seeing them learn, and that I did my job right, and this is how I got through to them. I love that process. I also get a little bit bored because to me the joy you get from the older horses is the winning. Seeing the process in a young horse is so fun.

Do you turn to your competitive peers for advice or to share experiences, or are you all training independently?
That’s the one cool thing about rodeo. We are all friends. We are all competitors, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes down to it, we’re all on the same team. Kelsie Chase, one of my biggest competitors, lives right here at my house in our apartment. It’s so good because when you can battle back and forth and share ideas, that’s a huge help. If I need to work on something, I can call my friend JJ [Hampton]. She lives right down the road, and is one of the greatest breakaway ropers ever. I can go down there and rope and she’ll pick something out. Or I can go down to Lari Dee [Guy]’s to rope, and she can pick something out. We’re always trying to help each other. The biggest thing is the women in our sport that are doing good and are part of the breakthrough of this want it to be bigger and better. So of course we’re going to help each other. We want everybody moving up in this sport.

You train, you compete, and you teach clinics … what are your plans after your final competition?
I die!? Hopefully, I’ll get to compete at a really old age! The cool thing about the roping industry is that I’m going to be able to compete in this event for a really long time. Even after that, I hope we can go on and compete as a family for a long time. Once I slow down, I hope I get to watch my kids compete at the levels to which we’ve strived to push rodeo.

Any advice for the competitive equestrian?
Don’t think you’re crazy! Or that you’re any crazier than any of us are. Because we spend our entire day in our lives trying to perfect something and we will never achieve perfection. You’re always going to be struggling to perfect something. You’re always going to be trying to make something better. You’re going to go through trials, tribulations, defeats, victories…and it’s a cycle. Don’t ever expect perfection because it never comes. You’ve got to find joy in the process.

What do you hope for the future of your sport?
I hope that when I am too old to compete with these younger girls, that I’m sitting front row at these venues that they get to rope at and I’m watching them rope and have opportunities way bigger than I had at their age. I want those girls to be right there having a women’s roping event right alongside the men.

Three females walk into a bar: a breakaway roper, a show jumper, and a polo player. What happens next?
I’m going to say that the jumper orders a fancy glass of wine. The breakaway roper orders a beer. The polo player orders a mixed drink. We get to talking, realizing we’re all pretty good buds, and we’re not all that different. Then probably the breakaway roper gets into a bar fight and we all have to leave!

I shouldn’t have said that!

Special thanks to Jackie Crawford, Kyle Jones, and WCRA for their photos and time.

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