BULLSISTERS

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve put aside other bull riding topics to talk about women in bull riding: riders, contractors, trainers, owners, breeders. Some fall into all those categories, some are doing a combination of them; some names you may know, some you don’t.

This is not an exhaustive study by any means; research on this would fill a book! (If there’s an organization or publisher out there who thinks I should write the book, talk to me!) If you want to comment or share information you have, the more the merrier— but please don’t start with, “I can’t believe you left out so-and-so.” If so-and-so isn’t in this post, it just means she wasn’t in my Google Alerts, Twitter feed, Facebook, or LinkedIn list, and didn’t come across my radar screen. There were no deliberate omissions.

Here’s the quick backstory:

Women competed in bronc and bull riding in the early 1900s, until a bronc rider died in a 1929 rodeo. Of course that meant they shouldn’t compete— convenient excuse to shut them out. Can you imagine if men were forbidden to ride bulls after Lane Frost died?

Return to the present:

Maggie Parker, from Michigan, has been widely touted as “the only female professional bull rider,” but thankfully that’s not true. There are quite a few—and there always have been—which is a miracle, considering the odds they have to buck. (Ha!)

The Little Britches Rodeo Association doesn’t allow girls to ride bulls or broncs. Girls are barred from competing in the National High School Rodeo Association– it’s true—look it up: III. Event Rules: 1. This event is open to boys only. She can’t attend most bull riding schools, or compete in most  events leading to the big leagues. The pipeline to professional status is clogged, so women formed their own organizations, events, and training schools: Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), for one—which unfortunately no longer has bull riding events, as far as I can tell. (I’d love to be wrong.)

Professional Women’s Rodeo Association (PWRA), however, is open to female roughstock riders. Women’s Roughstock Foundation, which was founded by T.J. Hooker and several other female bull riders, and the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA) allow women to compete against men in bull riding. In case anyone’s ready to disparage these riders, they use the same equipment as men do, and ride with one hand, not two, as some women formerly did; however, some organizations require that a ride be only 6 seconds, not 8.

Maggie Parker traveled from Michigan to California to work with Gary Leffew; fortunately he didn’t have a Neanderthal hangup about women riding bulls. Parker was probably the first bull ridin’ woman to win PRCA prize money (2012), which generated a lot of publicity. It also generated a lot of sick hostility, as I saw when I checked out a YouTube video of her in a practice pen.

The comments some men posted were unbelievably hateful. They clearly feel threatened that a woman dared to get on a bull. The only equally horrible remarks I’ve seen directed at bull riders are aimed at Brazilians; ain’t it interestin’ how sexism and racism go hand in hand? Apparently these fools expect a woman to instantly achieve J.B. Mauney caliber, and if she doesn’t, well then, she sucks.

Parker still deals with insults, even after more than 200 outs. In almost every media story, the writer is amazed that this 5’5”, 130-pound (don’t forget to mention pretty, blonde) woman rides 2,000-lb.bulls. For god’s sake, the majority of male bull riders are about her size! Have they seen Cody Nance up close?

This is verbatim from last year’s PRCA Bennington, Kansas Rodeo announcer:
“Have you ever heard that anything boys can do, the girls can do better? …here is a young lady in the professional ranks of rodeo that can ride bucking bulls…Do you wanna watch the young lady make a ride? This little blonde-haired beauty… she can ride!” Maggie made 8 seconds, followed by, “Everybody says, Is she legit? I guarantee, she’s legit!”

Can you imagine a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association emcee saying, “Here is a young gentleman in the professional ranks of rodeo that can ride bucking bulls…Do you wanna watch the young gentleman make a ride? This little blonde-haired beauty…he can ride! Everybody says, Is he legit? I guarantee, he’s legit!”

A newspaper article once referred to Parker as “the Danica Patrick of bull riding.” Another form of idiocy: she’s a woman in a male-dominated sport, so naturally she must be compared to another woman in a male-dominated sport— just like up-and-coming stock contractor Paige Stout has to deal with automatically being likened to another female contractor, Mesa Pate.

Classification by gender—how quaint! It proves how desperately the business needs a whole lot more women, so that instead of being compared on that basis, they can be compared on their scores, the bull scores, records broken, and money won. You know: like the boys.

BTW, last summer, Parker was seriously injured, went through four hours of surgery, and now has two long rods and eight screws in her back–also just like the boys. She spent her 21st birthday having staples removed from her spine. Says Maggie, “Recovery is going great. Building my strength back up and ready to ride again after the summer. Staying positive.” Meanwhile, you can spot her in a Dr. Pepper TV commercial, along with other “one of a kind” women.

A name PBR followers might remember from way back in the mists of time is Kaylynn Pellam, who competed in a 2011 PBR Touring Pro event in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was bucked off, so we never heard about her again. That happens to plenty of newbies; when it’s a male, it’s no biggie, but because it was a female who got bucked off—well, by golly that proves a woman can’t be a bull rider! Pellam wasn’t the first woman to compete in the PBR, though. Sarah Bradley in 2007 competed on the Challenger Tour, the predecessor to the Touring Pro Division.

Some people say that until 2011, Colorado-based Polly Reich was the only woman competing professionally against men—and she started at 29 years old. Larry Mosely trained her—as a black rider, he could relate to working in a sport controlled by white men. Reich was bullied (I’m not trying to be clever; there’s no other word for it) by men who probably spouted guff about “the cowboy way.” When she rode in the IPRA, they killed her dog with poison, unhinged her truck hood to make it blow off while she was driving on a highway, and beat her up in the dark. Read that again: several men jumped her in the dark and beat her up because they didn’t like a woman competing against them.

Reich eventually left the IPRA and instead of competing in the Women’s Pro Rodeo Circuit, she rode in the Professional Bull Riders Association (not PBR). Injuries? Yep: she broke her ankles, wrist, pelvic bone, tibia, and five ribs, dislocated a shoulder, punctured a lung, and had her scalp ripped off and reattached with 60 stitches. (Name one guy who had that last operation. Pretty gruesome.) Her career ended not because of a bull ride but because of a motorcycle cop who rammed into her as she was on a bicycle, and drastically separated her shoulder from her body.

The younger generation of bull riders includes Tayler Laflash from Boston, a 2012 Youth Bull Rider World Finals qualifier; in 2013 she was 17th in the world in Youth Bull Riders. Last year, because of an injury, she switched riding hands —does that sound familiar, J.B. fans?

Want to hear more names? Tavia Stevenson (PWRA reserve champion, 2003), DeeDee Crawford (WPRA World Champion), Tammy Kelly (National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, Women’s World Champion Bull Riding, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2003), Jocelyn Martin (retired), Vanessa Hodgson (also from Michigan), Wendy Persons, Abreanna Kuhn, Melissa Taylor, Denise Luna, Whitney Bates…

One of the coolest—and toughest—riders has to be Lynn “Jonnie” Jonckowski, two-time PWRA World Champion Bull Rider (1986, 1988) and National Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee. She attended bullriding school with 105 guys—and ranked second in the class. (She also earned her first facial reconstructive surgery.) In 1992, she was the first woman to compete in the Men’s World Bull Riding Championship, and did it again in 1993. Jonnie and another woman also signed up to ride at Cheyenne Frontier Days, though the event was open to men only. Jonnie broke the barrier in Pendleton, Oregon, too, where a woman hadn’t been on a bull for 68 years (again, because a woman had died doing it).

Jonnie’s life story is just begging to be a major motion picture, full of dramatic highs and lows: near Olympic status as a pentathlon champ, downed by an injury; entering an all-female rodeo, winning a lot of firsts as a “Weekend Warrior,” but not enough to live on: broke, no heat, and kinda hungry. A miraculously timed check paid her way to the finals, where her first bull’s hooves crashed down on her leg and mangled it. The doctors told her all the dire consequences if she tried to ride her next two bulls, including that she’d be dragging her leg behind her for the rest of her life. She had to be lifted onto her final bull because her leg wasn’t working, but she won the buckle.

Retiring from bull riding didn’t stop the injuries, though. A horse landed on her and broke so many bones, she almost died. She also suffered a rare tumor that nearly killed her; she lost most of her jaw, all her teeth, palate, eye socket, and cheekbone, and went through numerous reconstructive surgeries. Jonnie’s been written up in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and numerous magazines; she did the David Letterman and Charlie Rose shows, was a regular on two TV series—and the music playing on her website is Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Even cooler is what she does now: she runs Angel Horses, an organization in Billings, Montana that rescues horses and trains them to be therapy animals. Oh, yeah—and that Hollywood screenplay is in the works.

Great quote from her website: “What I learned about success in my quest for gold is this: success comes to those who are willing to risk more than other people feel is safe.” Yeah, I’d say Jonnie “don’t have no quit in her.”

One organization that doesn’t have a problem with women riding bulls is the International Gay Rodeo, composed of regional rodeos. The only difference is that roughstock riders here ride for 6 seconds. Casey Jackson (Sharon Norman), a Hall of Fame inductee, has a pretty wild background: riding a buffalo on a dare, she won a Little Britches Rodeo. She worked as a Hollywood stuntwoman (bison, this time), then while in the Navy, she got military orders to stop riding bulls. After she retired from competing, she taught bull and bronc riding at Denver’s Ford Arena.

Plenty of bull riders segue into being stock contractors, and one of the colorful ones is Joy Hawks of Rhinestone Renegades. The 1997 PWRA Rookie of the Year and Reserve Champion (who also holds bareback and all-around championships) has been hauling bull teams to CBR events for the past five years. Rhinestone Renegades offers a training program for female contractors and hosts events such as the Women’s Only Open Bull Futurities. This year they’ve teamed up with UBBI (United Bucking Bulls Inc.) for some events.

Hawks thinks big: over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, she produced and filmed an open bull team event in Stephenville, TX; she’s sponsored Women’s Futurity events, is currently putting together a TV show for the U.K. and Germany, and planning some Women’s Challenge events.

The Chief Renegade has this to say about male and female bull riders: “There’s not much difference in the mentality.” So right: the phrase that constantly pops up in interviews with bull riders, male or female, is adrenaline rush.

As for female bullfighters, they’re few and far between. The first to be noticed was Robin Sindorf, who worked for Flying U Rodeos in the 1980s as a barrelwoman? barrelperson? How annoying that there aren’t enough of them to make that sound like a normal word.

And let’s not forget the four-legged female athletes—bucking cows. I don’t mean cows just for breeding purposes; I mean cows that can dump a dude in the dirt. Mossy Oak Mudslinger’s granddaughter has been known to buck off a few lads. Some P.F.F. Twitter comments from guys: “As you can see, I didn’t last very long but she sure was rank.” “She wasn’t that rank; got on her 5 times, last one almost covered.” “U covered her for six seconds but nobody’s ever covered her for 8.”

Some people just can’t admit that BullSisters–two or four-legged– can kick ass.

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About Bull Riding Marketing

Creative services, marketing and public relations professional from entertainment industry background. Published in magazines and newspapers worldwide. I believe bull riders are the new rock stars.
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25 Responses to BULLSISTERS

  1. Well written story about the history of women in Rodeo. Thank you for recognizing all the sacrifices that were made by the women contestants.
    I rode Bulls and Bareback Broncs from 1981 to 1984. We had an incredible group of women contestants that worked hard and traveled all over the country following the sport of rodeo that we loved. We had the WPRA all-girl rodeos, and we had the stock contractors in the west that would put in a section of women’s bronc riding in their PRCA rodeos. It was the best payout of all made our travels West worth the cost from Texas. I loved every moment and made a lot of lifelong friends.
    Congratulations to all you ladies that gave it your very best. We have no regrets, just a lot of great memories!

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  2. K says:

    Please do not tout Maggie Parker as a hero. She is a racist, misogynistic bully and has been for years. She will very often put down other women in order to make herself feel more confident, or shame them for doing things in a way she doesn’t like (whether it’s raising a family or riding bulls).

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    • Having never met her, I don’t know what to say. (For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t call anyone a hero just because s/he rides bulls.)

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    • Kay Laboute says:

      I was FB’d about this post and I’m glad someone whose known Maggie is finally saying something.about the Maggie behind all the publicity and dis-information This article got its facts right and made excellent points. Bravo!

      Anyway, I think it is funny she is riding bulls because she was the biggest bully in our rural school system She was pretty much the only bully, but she put her whole heart and soul into it I shudder to remember the things she done starting in elementary school. And I’m not the only one. Like, once in 4th grade she put her fingers on top of a girl’s head and stuck her thumb nail into the girls forehead as far as it would go, and it took months to heal and left a scar. All because the girl wouldn’t give Maggie her first place in a line and go to the back.

      Maggie bullied the girls really bad but sure kissed up to the boys. The girls had to fall in line behind Maggie (pun intended) or she would be meaner than a skillet full of rattlesnakes, and get the girls who were afraid of her to help. She got better in high school, just got high a lot and hung out with her group of friends and messed with the boys heads.

      To be fair, she was smart and pretty and got good grades, and she was usually very good at whatever she put her mind to. She could have done anything after graduation, like be a doctor or a lawyer. But she also got “most likely to skip school” in the yearbook,
      Then, Maggie put on her Facebook that she was the only one to get out of town and do something with her life, which isn’t true by a long-shot. Our class has some very successful people who went to college and are building solid careers and lives. And, now Maggie has 2 kids by 2 men – stuff she made fun of before. But she’s married and it looks like is building a nice home and family. And bragging that she’s already taught her 1-yr-old daughter to do chores like sweep the floor and shower by herself.

      I have to give her credit where credit is due, she followed her dream and put her all into it and suffered for it, and really achieved a lot in a short period of time. Just, don’t ever think she’s a feminist role model. She’s just hard-core competitive and has wanted to be thought of as a tough, cool, sexy alpha female since third grade. Speaking of which, she isn’t flat-chested anymore, I wonder how that happened.

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  3. Polly says:

    Hi it’s Polly Reich here…thanks for the mention and great commentary on the person I was and am. If you ever have any questions for me or would just like to chat I would love to talk with you! You can email me at wowboltmarketing@gmail.com. Keep up the good work!

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  4. lguz says:

    Kaylynne was invited to ride in that PBR event because she was a seasoned and long training Junior bull rider who had been very successful and she was looking promising as a possible professional rider…its Jay Hooker or Jamie..theres also Kelly Gilbert ..Mandy Shipskey…Melisa Glass…Kelsy Stenz.Amanda Mc Millan…..Sarah Bradly who also rode PRCA snd a few PBR challenger events…Mo Doyle.. Dee Wallan..Blaire Campbell…Lysa Seigworth…and recently August Hopper…Leigha Willoughby..Krystyl GoclapUrhands Jare and Chelsea Bates….even the girls in WPRA started out training a with and competing against guys in locsl stuff…girls have bern riding in profesdional venues fo years and years…riding one bull for 8 does not make you a pro…riding in pro veneues and riding consistently ….and riding on a permit and earning the money, by riding consistently and placing, to reach $1000 that earns you your pro card snd then estsblishing yourself by continuing on and riding consistently on your pro card

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  5. lguz says:

    Kaylynne pellam was far from being a newbie…and most girls have been and are out there competeing against guys in local assoc ..regonal shows and jack pots…its always been that way except for the WPRA and. Many girls didnt even know the WPRA existed…there have been2 girls invited to ride in the PBR b-side Maggie Parker.and girls have written an invitational events with PRCA and CBR.its just sit there haven’t been many girls riding with a PBR or PRCA permit

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    • I was talking about the major leagues, not local events. Even so, it’s written into the NHSRA rules that bull riding is open only to boys, and that organization is a major source for emerging bull riders who end up in the most visible organizations. And yes, I did mention the riders invited to the PBR. I’d like to know more about riders in PRCA or CBR events.

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  6. lguz says:

    Maggir Parker has competed in like, at best , 30 events not 200

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  7. Trying to be a fan says:

    Now the PBR is going to China? A country where you can only have 1 child? Really Just because Jim Hayworth worked there for Walmart? Our seat prices will increase to ship the bulls to China? Really? Give me a break!

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    • p says:

      According to the article they will be shipping the bulls from Australia. I agree, however, that this is not a great idea. As many on facebook have said, they need to do more to grow it here at home.

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      • They obviously think Australia is close to China. It’s slightly more than 4,600 miles– nearly twice the mileage of Hawaii-to-California. We’ve seen only a few Hawaiian bulls at PBR events, and even then, some of them were sold to people here, so they’re not commuters. Are the bulls going by ship or plane? Will the different water make them sick? Are they going to start a breeding program in China? Are there Chinese bull riders? If there are, will they be treated the way PBR treats Brazilian riders? Will PBR spring for Chinese translators in each Chinese language? Also, PBR Australia is a relatively small operation. Can they handle all the logistics? Or is the PBR machine going to come stomping in and take over?

        This sounds like one big dumb move to me. Of course, no matter what happens over there, we will be assured that every event sold out.

        OMG– the most important thing of all: Will the Chinese take to Craig Hummer??

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    • Really– because they’re stupid. They’re jumping on the China bandwagon. So many businesses are making money in China, they think they can, too. After all, there are millions of people there. (Yeah, and what’s the average income?) They haven’t considered the fact that bull riding is not a necessity– and most people can afford only necessities. It’s not a commodity, like soy, which can bring in lots of money on the stock market. It’s not Hollywood movies, which do well over there. And it’s not luxury goods; if people want luxury, they buy a Rolex. I wonder how many market surveys they’ve conducted over there? And where exactly are they planning to do this? Do they have some kind of financial guarantee from the government? Is Spire Capital investing cash over there (a bribe, in cruder terms) to make this happen? What riders are going to participate, other than Australians and possibly New Zealanders? Most of the Americans and Brazilians can’t afford that kind of airfare (although I’m sure they’d give JB Mauney a first-class ticket and hotel). Is PBR planning an actual series or circuit over there? Or just exhibitions?

      Last but not least, I’m sure PBR has absolutely NO concern about China’s record on human rights. Remember that famous picture of the one protester standing in the way of a tank in Tiananmen Square? Not to mention how they treat women (a lot of baby girls still get left to die, because boys are more desirable children)–
      but PBR doesn’t give a rat’s ass how they treat women here, so why would they care about Chinese women?

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      • S. says:

        Jim Haworth came over from Walmart China, so I guess he’s hung up on China. I don’t understand why people like him (and Cameron Mackintosh, with Les Miz) just see people and money there and don’t seem to make the connection that there are a lot of people but most of them are not in city centers and don’t have disposable incomes.

        Besides the human rights issues, does the PBR think this could possibly help their animal rights image? I’m thinking not.

        This is not even touching if this really takes off and Chinese riders and bulls come over here and take over all the top spots…

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      • LOL– the Americans would be shitting bricks.

        Maybe their idea of bull riding in China is just to hold exhibition-type events, and sell corporate boxes, the way Yankee Stadium has season tickets that no regular person can afford, and Broadway shows sell blocs of tickets to big companies for shmoozing their big customers. Certainly the farmers out in the provinces aren’t gonna fork out to watch bull riding.

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      • S. says:

        I’m sure it would be a curiosity, and some would pay to see it, but it’s just not clear what the long-term plan here is, if any. And I just don’t see how an organization that has struggled for years to figure out how to appeal outside of its narrow US base is not going to totally bungle it in China.

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      • They’ll bungle in every language they can!

        I think the deal is, the sponsors want in, so the PBR introduces them to the China market, where they can sell Monster/Rock Star energy drinks, tractors, Ford trucks, fishing rods, and all that other stuff. I don’t think China is going to appreciate all the praying and militarism, though. That should be an interesting cultural crash.

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  8. Sarah T says:

    Great article! Interesting and informative. I would think people outside of this blog would be interested in reading this article. Are there any bull riding magazines out there any more? PBR used to publish one.

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    • Hi there! Thanks.
      PBR made their magazine digital, and of course you have to join the Fan Club and pay to see it. I was in touch with the editor of The Short Round magazine for a while, but she already has a stable of writers (no pun intended). Humps N’ Horns is a PBR “partner” publication, so you can be pretty sure they don’t wanna hear from me. The only other one is Western Horseman Magazine. I think I ought to approach some mainstream (or semi-mainstream) magazines. Actually, it would be fun to write a book about females in the bull riding business.

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  9. p says:

    From Mesa Pate Bucking Bulls facebook page: Headed to San Antonio so have some free time for an update. For the past few months I’ve had a lot of people asking if I’m still hauling bulls. I don’t feel like everyone needs to know everything about my life, but I have had some amazing support since I’ve started so I just wanted to share what’s going on. I still have bulls, my life still revolves around bulls. But my whole career I’ve just bought them from other people as mature bulls. Anymore that’s just not as fun for me. I love raising them and starting them, so that’s the approach I’m trying to go at now. So although it won’t happen over night, I love putting together a little cow herd, picking the right sires and seeing the calves grow. It’s also giving me more time to focus on my horses. I still have some older bulls and will try to haul them more this year too. Thank you to everyone who has stood behind me and always been so kind and supportive!

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  10. Trying to be a fan says:

    Boy, they sure don’t ever mention Mesa Pate any more. Paige Stout is only photographed leaning over with her blond hair flowing over the bulls back. They both have long hair like the Monster Drink exploited bimbos that they pimp. It does not help that there is or was (refuse to watch) the reality show about barrel racers. The women of the PBR that are featured, for the most part, are there to support their men. Except Leeann Hart. She does sponsor some civic events for the needy. Good for her. When I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, roles were very different. Boys were expected to do/act a certain way and so were girls. Maybe that is why I loved Annie Oakley because she dared to go up against the men of the old west. I had an Annie Oakley outfit and wished I could have been her. Girls only rode their horses in horse shows (western pleasure) while boys got to spit and do rodeos. I guess times really have not changed so much in the last 60 years. Kind of depressing!

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