Bringing back heritage: Women’s bronc riding returns to the Black Hills Roundup Rodeo after nearly 80 years

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– The grit. The try. The determination. These ladies are truly cowgirl tough.

Typically, you see men in the bronc ring, but this year, the Black Hills Roundup Rodeo is bringing back the tradition of welcoming women into the ring.

The last time women bronc riders competed at the rodeo was the 1940s, according to the Tri-State Museum and Visitor Center. The history of the women’s event dates back to around 1918.

Women bronc riders, 1930. Photo courtesy of the Tri-State Museum and Visitor Center.

They wanted to bring back some of the heritage that was created years ago, Scott Reder, past Roundup chairman and current board member of the Black Hills Roundup said, and they hope this event can create some excitement.

Reder doesn’t know why the event subsided years ago, but he said he is really grateful that it is coming back strong.

Daryl McElroy, President of the Texas Bronc Rider Association and the one who oversees women’s ranch bronc riding, said Belle Fourche and the Black Hills as a whole has such a history, that is why they decided the Roundup would be a great place to re-introduce the event. He said the Dakotas have a large fan base for women’s bronc riding as well as have quite a few ladies who ride.

Women bronc rider. Photo courtesy of the Tri-State Museum and Visitor Center.

“We are really excited to bring it up there and showcase it, especially at the Black Hills,” McElroy said.

The date and location for this event is perfect, McElroy said.

“The history behind the Roundup, the location, you know it’s the Dakotas, you can’t beat the Dakotas,” McElroy said. “And it’s Fourth of July weekend, there is going to be so much excitement there.”

The Roundup is one of the top rodeos that these competitors wanted to be at this year, McElroy said. After a long year of COVID-19, they are excited to be back competing and showcasing their skills.

McElroy said there will be 16 “of probably some the toughest ladies in the United States and possibly Canada” participating in the event. They are competing to qualify for the three spots to compete at the Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Having 16 women competing is a little higher than normal, McElroy said, because they are having so many ladies trying to qualify and get their foot in the door to get into the World Finals. Typically they see around 10 competitors at an event.

“They aren’t like the men’s where, you know, everybody in the world wants to get on a bronc and they just bring their ranch saddle and they come down good,” McElroy said. “These ladies they’ve got to have the grit and the try and the determination… Kind of a little bit of macho-ness to them because, you know, its not an easy event.”

Women’s bronc riding is an event that is starting to become known, McElroy said.

“It’s been around for years and years, but it hasn’t really took traction until like the last three or four years,” McElroy said.

Women bronc riding. Photo courtesy of the Tri-State Museum and Visitor Center

McElroy said they began the women’s bronc riding as an additional event to their bronc finals in Texas in 2016. Since then, they have had up to 20 events in a year, with anywhere from six to 20 ladies competing.

Competing at the Roundup was not something that the girls had to qualify for, so they are just entering, McElroy said.

“Most of these ladies, they are not just going to enter this event if they haven’t been on a bucking horse before,” McElroy said. “This is really not for the beginners, I guess you could say; and a lot of the ladies that are entering this thing know this is not a beginner’s event; this is going to be a pretty tough event and there is going to be a lot of competition and a lot of money up to grabs too.”

For prizes, the event has $1,000 added plus they but all the entry money back into a pot which is around $1600 for a total of $2,600, McElroy said. He believes this pot will pay four places.

They were supposed to be competing to go to the world championships, but due to COVID-19, the competitors from Australia and Canada that qualified cannot get across the boarder, McElroy said. Now, they are in the process of trying to rebuild the competitions for 2022.

Photo courtesy of Daryl McElroy

The rules of the event are basically the same as they are for men, McElroy said. But for the ladies, they can hold on to either a rope, a night latch, or the saddle horn, so they can ride with two hands. The scoring is similar to the men’s event 1 to 25 for the horse; 1 to 25 for the rider.

They can still get disqualified, just like the men, McElroy said. This can happen if they get bucked off, if they double-grab or if they lose their bronc rein.

There is a good possibility that someone is going to get hurt and someone is going to get bucked off during the event, McElroy said.

“These girls got to have the want and the try to do it, so that’s why the numbers are a little bit lower,” McElroy said.

The riders come from all over the country, just as they did years ago, Reder said. There are a lot of local riders who have become kind of famous now for being great bronc riders.

“The ladies that are involved nowadays are extremely competitive and you know hopefully everybody will get a chance to realize that they’re not just out doing this for just to do it, they are here to win some money as well,” Reder said.


What it’s like to be up on that saddle:

Pearl Kersey, 2019 Cheyenne Frontier Days Women’s Bronc Riding Champion from Pincher Creek, Alberta, Canada, started women’s bronc riding about four and a half years ago after a friend introduced her to the sport at a ranch rodeo. She had pretty good luck during that rodeo and continued to compete.

Then, Kersey found out about the Texas Bronc Riding Association while she was already in the process of selling her house, so she bought a truck camper, loaded up her dogs and went to Texas for almost a full summer to rodeo. She did this a couple of times the next year and then COVID-19 happened.

Kersey riding. Photo courtesy of Pearl Kersey

“Now we’re just waiting to get back at it,” Kersey said.

If the Canadian boarders open in time, Kersey hopes to compete at the Black Hills Roundup Rodeo.

When you’re on the back of a bronc, “it’s a little bit of a rush,” Kersey said. “You kind of just have to stay focused because if you don’t you just totally like just blank and you have no idea what’s going on. But if you can pretty much stay focused, you’re kind of just thinking about hanging on and keeping everything where it should be.”

Kersey rides horses a lot as part of her training routine, stays fit and works on her balance.

“If you can get on some practice horses or a buckin’ machine, it really helps, do as much as you can so you are ready” Kersey said.

A lot of it is a mental game, Kersey said.

Kersey riding. Photo courtesy of Pearl Kersey

The amount of rodeos Kersey competes on every year varies depending on her schedule. She averages around 15 to 20 rodeos a year.

Kersey has never really had anyone tell her that bronc riding is a man’s sport.

“If someone is like that you just don’t pay them any mind,’ Kersey said. “All you got to do is go get on the horse and ride it and then they’re like ‘oh, I guess the can do it, right’.”

In Canada, she rides against the guys all the time, Kersey said, and they have always been helpful.

Kersey riding. Photo courtesy of Pearl Kersey.

Kersey’s favorite part of the sport is being able to better herself and the family she has gained within the sport.

As far as this year goes, she has not been able to compete in any rodeos because of Canada’s lockdown. However, as things begin to open up more, Kersey hopes to come to South Dakota and then Cheyenne, and then return to competing in Canada in the fall.


The women’s bronc riding event always receives positive feedback, McElroy said. He said about 90% of the public feedback is positive, but there is still a few people that think women shouldn’t be competing in bronc riding.

“And then they actually see it and they are like ‘oh man, I have some colts, I wonder if these girls want to ride horses for me’,” McElroy said.

This is not just a men’s sport now, this is a rodeo sport, McElroy said.

Photos courtesy of Daryl McElroy

There are still a few people who do not watch it, McElroy said, so they maintain the old school mentality that women should not be competing in this event.

“They are few and far between now,” McElroy said. “In the beginning there was a lot, but now… it’s a common thing, they are looking forward to the women riding.”

The Roundup has seen a good response from people planning to attend the event, Reder said.

“We have had a lot of people ask about it because it is something kind of new to most people, especially people coming in from other parts of the country that haven’t necessarily been involved or have thought of women, you know, being bronc riders,” Reder said. “They are very intrigued about, you know, what this event is and what it entails.”

Reder said the locals and local businesses are very proud and glad to have the event returning to the Roundup.

The women’s bronc riding event will take place on July 2 and 3 during the middle of the rodeo.

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