Kaila Mussell, First Woman to Compete in Men’s Rodeo Since 1941

Kaila ridingWelcome to my guest, Kaila Mussell, a saddle-bronc-riding cowgirl from Chilliwack BC. Kaila is the first and only woman since the 1940s to qualify to compete with men in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Kaila, tell me how you got involved in riding rough stock?

Grew up on a farm, mainly horses, some cows, dogs etc.  Started off as a barrel racer, steer rider, professional trick rider and then saddle bronc riding. My dad was a saddle bronc rider and bull rider and my mom was a rodeo queen.  My oldest brother CEJ rode saddle broncs and steer wrestled and my younger sister Filene barrel raced and rode steers as well.

How did you earn enough points to  compete with the men in the PRCA?

To fill your pro card (to become a full-card professional) you have to win $1,000 while competing in PRCA approved rodeos. Generally you can enter the smaller money-added rodeos, but you can’t qualify for large big-money added rodeos, or if you can, they draw amongst those who have their PERMIT…you can buy a permit to enter rodeos, once you win the money you have the option of buying your full pro card.

Are there any other women who are getting close?

There is a female bull rider who has won some money but hasn’t filled her pro card

Why do you do it?

Challenge, adrenaline rush, danger, love of the sport – the feeling of being in sync with a bucking horse.

Can you describe the feeling of being on the back of a thrashing, sunfishing bronc who only wants to shed its unwelcome burden?

Thrilling, powerful, connected, reactive, instinctive.

What’s your definition of danger?

Whatever gets your heart racing and seems scary.

What do you feel like when you know you’ve made a successful ride?

Happy, excited, successful, energetic, positive, confident, empowered.

Have you run into any stigma or prejudice against a woman doing a “man’s” extreme sport?

Some, as to be expected but it’s all in your attitude. Doing what I do, if you go after it for the same reasons, put in an honest effort and are serious about what you do, I find for the most part males are relatively accepting, especially the younger generations.

How did your family feel when you decided this was your career?

I wouldn’t consider saddle bronc riding a career. It definitely doesn’t pay my bills. I’d call it a passion, an expensive hobby. My family overall has been pretty supportive but they also have been involved in rodeo so that definitely helps. They support me in what I do.

How many broken bones, injuries etc. have you had?

Lots, broke left collar bone, right collar bone twice, separated right shoulder, dislocated left shoulder twice, two surgeries on left shoulder, one surgery on right, Kaila headshotboth knees, ACL surgeries, broken right wrist.

What keeps you going?

Drawn to the support, invested a lot of time, energy, passionate about the sport, love what I do.

Do you enjoy the travel or does it get old after awhile?

Yes and no, traveling to new places is exciting, traveling by yourself can get old, but with company it is fun. If you are doing well rodeoing the traveling is easy, if not, it is hard

What gets you down?

Not riding up to my expectations, drawing poor broncs, being broke.

What brings you back up?

Family, friends and fans’ support, looking at the bigger picture – my goals, why I do what I do, inspirational quotes.

Do you have an old-time cowgirl heroine?

None in particular but I did look up to and was inspired by a lot of the early cowgirls from the early 1900s.

If you weren’t a bronc-riding cowgirl, what would you like to be?

A professional snowboarder or surfer or downhill bike racer or motorcross…anything to keep up with the adrenaline rush

Do you have a particular philosophy of life?

Live for the now, don’t dwell on the little things, focus on what makes you happy, follow your heart, don’t take life too seriously

A favorite quote or theme you live by?

“I will not tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death.”

Tell me about the recent competition you went to in Vegas—the Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR).

I was the first female to ever qualify for the INFR this year in Las Vegas in saddle bronc. It was a very cool feat and I’m proud that I did.  I didn’t do as well as I had hoped in Vegas, but it was a great experience and met a lot of really cool people and had a good time.  There is always next year.

Thank you, Kaila! I have been researching women’s rodeo from the early 1900s, since my grandmother rode bucking stock in Montana rodeos in the 1920s. Back then, women competed in the same arena as men, drawing the same bucking stock they did, and at times even beating the men in steer roping and many other events. Madison Square Garden in 1941 was the last World Champion rodeo where women were allowed to compete on rough stock. Vivian White of Oklahoma won that championship. Kaila Mussell is the first women since that time to qualify and compete with men in the PRCA arena.

Follow Kaila on her blog, on Twitter, on Facebook  and see a post by the Lone Cowgirl.

Published in: on December 27, 2012 at 6:00 am  Comments (3)  
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History of Women’s Rodeo

Prairie Rose Henderson

The 1920s were the heyday in rodeo for women who competed with men on the same rough stock in the same arenas. WWI nearly brought rodeo in general to extinction, and then the nationwide drought and Great Depression of the 1930s, along with mechanization for farming added to rodeo’s decline, especially in the West.

Ironically, the East still had the Boston Gardens Rodeo and the Madison Square Garden Rodeo in New York, begun by the  London Rodeo producer Tex Austin. In the mid-1920s, Col. William T. Johnson took over the Garden in New York and also began producing indoor rodeos throughout the east. The expansion of this eastern circuit made rodeo a lucrative career for many contestants, including women.

In 1929, a tragic accident shook the rodeo world when Bonnie McCarroll was killed riding a bronc at the Pendleton (Oregon) Roundup. Women have not been allowed to compete on rough stock in that arena since that day, and as a result many other western rodeos also discontinued their women’s contests. Also in 1929, the Rodeo Association of America was formed to organize the haphazard rules of the sport. They did not sanction any women’s events. Then in 1934, a Montana cowgirl, Marie Gibson, was killed in a freak accident when her bronc and the pickup man’s horse collided, furthering the idea that rodeo was too dangerous for women.

Col. Johnson ignored the RAA and continued to include cowgirl contests in his eastern rodeos until 1936. But that year the cowboys went on strike at the Boston Garden Rodeo, demanding a bigger share of the gate as prize money, and formed the Cowboys Turtle Association, the forerunner of today’s PRCA. The CTA also did not allow women’s events.

Queens of the RodeoWhile these changes were going on, in 1931, the Stamford, (CT) Cowboy Reunion invited area ranches to send young women to the rodeo to compete in a Sponsor Contest to “add femininity” to the all-male event. They were judged on who had the best horse, on their riding ability, and who wore the prettiest outfit. It proved very popular, and many other rodeos began to hold similar competitions.

In 1939, the new Madison Square Garden promoter, Everett Colburn, invited a group of Texas women to appear as Sponsor Girls to promote publicity for the rodeo. The following year, another group of comely young women rode while Hollywood singing cowboy Gene Autry sang “Home on the Range.” Autry soon formed his own rodeo company and took over the Madison Square Garden and most of the major rodeo venues. He banned the cowgirl bronc riding contest, leaving nothing for cowgirls except the invitation-only Sponsor Girl event. Barrel racing grew out of these contests and is still today’s primary women’s rodeo event.

Women did form their own professional rodeo group in 1948, the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA), which later became the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), where women are once again participating in bronc and bull riding, as well as team roping and break-away roping, but only at their own rodeos. Barrel racing is still the only sanctioned women’s event at the men’s PRCA rodeos.

Since the formation of the RAA in 1929, only one woman has qualified, within the PRCA’s point system, to compete in saddle bronc riding with men. That woman is Kaila Mussell from BC, Canada. She has been nominated to the Cowgirls Hall of Fame.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 10:13 pm  Comments (5)  
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