Breakaway Rules

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In the world of Western timed events, Jackie Hobbs-Crawford and the words “breakaway roping” are synonymous.  With a clear-cut vision and an earned position of notoriety, she promotes the sport that is precious to her and to the rapidly growing cadre of cowgirls who live and breathe breakaway.  Driven by her vivacious personality and determination, Jackie is on the cusp of reaping big rewards from a career with—and a love for—horses.

And, the proof is in the pudding!

Jackie just made breakaway roping history in January when she secured the top spot in the World Champions Rodeo Alliance (WCRA) $1,000,000 Windy City Roundup at the Allstate Arena in Chicago. She took home $52,347 and set the record for the largest payout ever for a single breakaway roping win. 

I caught up with Jackie, her husband, 9-time NFR qualifying team roper Charly Crawford, her stepdaughter, Kaydence, and their now 2-year-old son Creed in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where both Jackie and Charly were competing in the 2018 WCRA $500,000 Semi-Finals at the Lazy E Arena.

Pinning her down was no easy task.  To give you an idea of how busy this outgoing gunner-of-a-roper is, she spent the weekend flying in a chartered plane back and forth between two breakaway roping events, even as I pursued her with camera and pen for this feature story.

And it was worth every minute. 

ROPING ROPED HER IN

Born in Springfield, Illinois, Jackie grew up in the little town of Belleville, Illinois, just east of St. Louis, Missouri.  Horses were always a part of her life.  “My mom used to ride me around in a cut-out pillow that she’d set over the saddlehorn,” Jackie recalls.  “Both my parents competed in rodeo and we did a lot of stuff with the racetrack and speed events.”

Jackie first caught the roping bug when her parents moved the family to Oklahoma. 

“I’ve always been athletic and was kind of a tomboy growing up,” she says.  “When we moved to Oklahoma, there was just something about seeing other girls roping that sparked my interest.  Once I got started, it just took off and I never looked back.”

 Jackie began her journey in junior high, but started seriously roping in her freshman and sophomore years in high school.

Her talents did not go unnoticed.  Scholarship offers from schools with rodeo programs came to her, but her dream of roping in Texas was foremost on her mind. 

“I had a bunch of offers from schools close to home, but, in my mind, I had this competitiveness in me—you know, the ‘iron sharpens iron’ factor—I wanted to go where it was the toughest, and that was Texas.”

Jackie took a scholarship at Vernon College, a school in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s Southwest Region, located just south of the Texas/Oklahoma border.  Her first year at Vernon, with its strong rodeo program, was an eye-opener.  “I got my butt kicked, just all over the place,” she says.  “I just didn’t realize how tough it was—I didn’t make the college finals in any event.”

By the second year, she started getting things figured out and won the region, and ended up going to the college finals and winning the nation.

Her competitive attitude and determined athletic demeanor kept pushing her right along.  She earned a full-ride scholarship to Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, which boasts one of the most renowned rodeo programs in the nation.  There, she and her teammates went on to win NIRA’s Southwest Region the next two years, and proceeded to win the NIRA National Finals, where Jackie placed No. 2 in the nation.

“I loved Tarleton.  I loved the people and the town,” Jackie says.  “Just something there.  I always wanted to go back to Stephenville, and so six years later, after I graduated, I ended up moving back to Stephenville. 

MAKING A LIVING ROPING

There has never been big money in women’s roping.  Arguably, things have changed in the past year—bringing a much more promising future for women with the grit to compete in the big leagues.

With the inclusion of breakaway roping in the WCRA program, its addition to RFD-TV’s The American, and its inclusion in a proliferation of independent events such as the Bob Feist Invitational and Jackie’s own Rope For The Crown, the opportunity now exists for female competitors to make a run towards a professional career in roping.  And that’s just what Jackie is determined to do.

“This is a super exciting time for women in breakaway roping and roping in general,” Jackie says.  “It’s such a big event, and there’s so many numbers to consider, but it’s always just been kept on kind of a small platform.  So that’s why, right now, we’re so grateful for events like the WCRA, like The American, and to all of these people who are putting such effort into growing this sport.” She goes on to explain that participation-wise—from junior high to high school to college rodeo—breakaway is one of rodeo’s biggest and fastest growing events.

And with all the growing events, comes a growing need to be on the road.

“I’m as busy as Charly is pro-rodeoing,” says Jackie.  “Right now is just such a stepping-stone, and I am so excited to see where this goes in the future:  I don’t just need one breakaway horse and a couple of team roping horses; I need a few breakaway horses.  The market for the breakaway horses is going up.  It’s changing the entire industry for the good.”

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

In December of 2018, during the National Final Rodeo in Las Vegas, Jackie put on the first of what she considers to be the National Finals of Breakaway Roping.  The Rope for the Crown Breakaway Championships, sponsored by Ariat International, was held at Las Vegas’ Plaza Hotel, and attracted many of the top breakaway ropers in North America.  It’s events such as these that Jackie hopes carry the sport closer and closer to the Thomas and Mack and the NFR.  “It’s obviously everybody’s dream.  Who wouldn’t want to back into a box at the Thomas and Mack?”

Jackie is not only a fierce competitor and tireless promoter of roping sports for women; she is also one of the girls’ biggest cheerleaders.  As a role model, she is much sought-after as a teacher, a speaker, a mentor, and a friend.  She is perhaps the best-known breakaway roper in the business and is always an open book to anyone wanting to learn more about the sport.

“I want girls to have their own goals,” says Jackie.  “I want them to have big dreams.  I want them to work towards something, because I don’t feel like we’ve seen the full potential because the platform has never been there to work towards.  So if there is a little girl coming up right now who sees what the future of this breakaway roping is, I hope she starts working at it right now and harder than we worked.  I hope it just gets tougher and tougher, and I hope that little girl just brings this sport to a whole other level, to where it’s even faster, even sharper, even neater to watch.  I just want those girls to have big dreams and let’s see what they can do.”

UPPING THE ANTE IN BREAKAWAY 

“One thing I really love about our sport is that it’s a lot about what you put into it,” she says.  “Nothing against barrel racing—I love it.  I love watching it.  I love the horsepower.  I’m a fan.  But I also love the fact that breakaway roping brings out your skills with a rope.  You can’t just get on a breakaway horse and go in the breakaway, or even come close to competing; there are lots of other skills that go with it.

“While you might not have to have as much horsepower, like say, a barrel racer,” she continues, “the horses are very important because there are a lot of girls nowadays who can really rope.  We’re noticing the ones that keep rising to the top are the ones that bring in the horsemanship and the high-powered horses.  You learn to ride those horses better and train those horses better.  Obviously, the horse doesn’t have to work the rope, like a calf horse, or have all the speed like a barrel horse, but those horses have to be good, and the biggest thing is the start, and a lot of that happens in the box.”

BALANCING FAMILY AND THE ROAD

The union of Jackie and Charly is a match made in rodeo heaven. 

“We had known who each other were for a while, but had never met,” Jackie recalls.  “I was actually dating one of his friends, and in Vegas he came up and tried to embarrass his buddy.  Not realizing the girl talking to his friend was me, he made a real butt of himself. Charly was totally embarrassed and apologized every time he saw me for awhile.”

Fast forward two years later, their paths crossed again and it was end of story! “We got engaged in front of a packed crowd in Puyallup, Washington, with Charly surprising me.  The announcer and clown were part of the whole scheme.”

“We had planned to get married in Vegas during the NFR where Charly was competing, figuring that would be the easiest to have all our friends and family in one place, and we didn’t really want a big ceremony.  We just couldn’t find the right time, and so we came home not married.  We woke up Christmas Eve morning and just said, ‘Let’s get married today!’ We called Trey Johnson and went out to our new property and simply tied the knot by the water.  It was perfect for us!”

Balancing a life with a 2-year-old child and a very active professional rodeoing husband is one thing.  Multiply that by an exploding roping career of your own is an altogether different story.  How does she make it work?

“I could never make it work without the help of friends and family,” Jackie says.  “I can’t even say ‘I’ in this equation.  My stepdaughter, Kaydence, is an amazing help.  She is so good.  My friends are amazing.  If I show up somewhere and I have the baby and Kaydence isn’t with me or Charly’s not with me, everybody just grabs him or takes care of him.  It’s like he’s part theirs.  If it weren’t for the friends and for having the help that we have around home, it simply would not work.  Right now, we’re doing okay.  We’re getting it done.”

“This is why the WCRA is so important to me,” she continues.  “This is the first event outside of team roping that Charly and I have gotten to go and rodeo as a family.”

And there is more of that to come.  The WCRA has four major events scheduled for 2019 that have breakaway roping on the ticket.  Add to that RFD-TV’s The American, the $2.3 million dollar rodeo that takes place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, March 2-3, and you can start to see how Jackie’s investment into her beloved sport is paying off.

TRAINING AND TEACHING

Jackie Crawford the clinician and horse trainer is never very far from the professional breakaway roper.  She is a respected teacher and horse trainer with a passion for both, plying her trade in between the ever-growing number of events.

“I love to compete and I love to win, but honestly my first passion is riding young horses,” she says.  “I love training horses; it’s my favorite thing.  Even just starting to haul the young horses—the process—I find a lot of joy in that process. 

“I also do a lot of clinics and teach regular roping.  That’s taken me to places where I get to meet a lot of great people.  Nowadays, it’s harder and harder to find the time.  I want keep my clinics changing, moving, and evolving, and maybe not have as many, but the ones I do, I want to do really well.  That’s a huge part of my life.”

Defining a career as a roper in a field dominated by men is, to say the least, no easy task.  Add to that the challenge of making a career of breakaway roping—which was never even considered in major rodeo until 2018—and prospects of longevity become daunting.

“I think one of the biggest obstacles was stepping out on my own,” Jackie confesses.  “It’s very scary.  I think overcoming the fear of stepping out without a safety net—no money, no home, not really anything to my own name—and just trying to figure out how to make that work was a huge thing for me.  I wanted to do this as my living, as my career.  That’s something that very few people could make work.  And so making it work has been my biggest challenge, but it’s also been my greatest reward.

“I’ve had some great people help me throughout the years, and I think that’s what it takes,” Jackie concludes.“Great people helping you.”  

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