What is Breakaway Roping? How the Sport Works

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Breakaway roping is a fast-paced and exciting rodeo sport that originated in the western United States. It’s a variation of calf roping, but unlike traditional calf roping, the calf is not thrown and tied. Instead, this rodeo event features a calf and a mounted rider working together to rope the calf around the neck. The rider’s rope “breaks away” from the saddle once the calf is far enough away from the horse, hence the name breakaway roping.

The sport requires skill, precision, and teamwork between the rider and the horse. Breakaway roping competitions are held at a variety of levels, from local events to professional rodeos. Participants use specific equipment, such as ropes designed for breakaway roping. Training and practice are essential parts of becoming a successful breakaway roper, with many individuals devoting countless hours to mastering the craft.

Key Takeaways

  • Breakaway roping is a variation of calf roping that doesn’t involve throwing and tying the calf.
  • Skill, precision, and teamwork are crucial components of the sport.
  • Competitions are held at various levels and require specialized equipment and training.


Breakaway roping has its roots in the professional rodeo world, with its introduction dating back to 1948 when the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association was formed (source). This event was established to cater to the growing population of cowgirls in the rodeo, providing them with a competitive opportunity that highlighted their skills and athleticism.

In the early days of breakaway roping, the event’s popularity was not as widespread as it is today. However, over the past couple of years, the sport has gained significant traction and recognition within the rodeo circuit. One pivotal moment in breakaway roping history took place at the Lazy E in Guthrie, Oklahoma, where the World Champions Rodeo Alliance (WCRA) staged a major event with a $1 million payout (source). This event helped solidify breakaway roping as a household phrase on the rodeo circuit and underscored its importance within the broader context of rodeo sports.

Today, breakaway roping continues to be one of the fastest events in rodeo, showcasing the talent of top-notch women equestrians and their elite equine athletes (source). As more major rodeos include breakaway roping in their lineup of events, the sport is rapidly gaining mainstream attention, and its competitors are making history with every swift and skillful performance. Furthermore, the increasing prevalence of breakaway roping in major rodeos reflects the progress and growing recognition of women’s talents within the world of rodeo.

Concept of Breakaway Roping

Breakaway roping is an equine sport that originated in the western United States. It involves a person on horseback attempting to rope a calf around its neck, with the roper’s rope “breaking away” from the saddle once the calf is far enough away from the horse. The goal is to achieve the fastest time possible while adhering to the rules and avoiding penalties.

In a typical breakaway roping event, the calf starts in a roping chute and is given a head start before the roper begins the chase. The horse, guided by the rider, plays a crucial role in closing the distance between the roper and the calf. When the roper successfully ropes the calf, a flag judge determines if the rope has broken away and records the time.

The sport requires a combination of skills, from horsemanship to roping technique. A successful breakaway roper must be able to:

  • Handle the horse: Managing the horse’s speed, direction, and positioning is crucial to getting close enough to the calf for a successful rope.
  • Develop a strong swing: The roper’s swing can make or break the success of the run. It must be accurate, fast, and efficient to ensure a quick catch.
  • Avoid penalties: Common penalties in breakaway roping include the addition of 10 seconds to a roper’s time for breaking the barrier early or failing to give the calf its appropriate head start.

As breakaway roping continues to grow in popularity, more riders and their horses are developing their skills and competing in various events across the country. This thrilling sport combines elements of speed and skill, challenging its participants to continually refine their techniques for the sake of faster times and fewer penalties.

Equipment Used


In breakaway roping, the type of rope used is crucial. Ropers often use a 4-strand poly rope with a weighted core, which gives it a smooth feel and allows for better control during the roping process. The length of the rope used in breakaway roping is typically around 28 feet, and sizes vary from 9.5 to 10.0, depending on the type of rope and the individual roper’s preference (Breakaway Roping Journal).


A reliable and well-trained horse is essential for breakaway roping success. The performance of the horse in breakaway roping directly impacts the rider’s ability to effectively catch the calf. Horses used in this event should have excellent athletic ability, good temperament, and a solid foundation in roping to perform at their best. Training the horse for breakaway roping involves developing skills like maintaining a consistent pace, responding to cues from the rider, and learning to handle the stress of a competitive environment.


The saddle is an important piece of equipment for breakaway roping, as it provides stability and comfort for the rider. A high-quality saddle should have a strong tree, durable and secure rigging, and a comfortable seat. In breakaway roping, the saddle horn is used to tie the breakaway rope with a heavy string, which allows the rope to break away when a legal catch is made (AQHA). Therefore, a sturdy and well-designed saddle horn is essential for the sport.

Overall, the choice of rope, horse, and saddle play a significant role in the performance of breakaway ropers. Investing in quality equipment and proper training can give the rider and horse the competitive edge needed to excel in this demanding rodeo event.

Process of Breakaway Roping


In breakaway roping, the roper starts by entering the box on the right side of the roping chute, with the calf loaded into it. The breakaway roper waits in the corner while ensuring that their horse stands squarely looking ahead1. The roper must focus on scoring and judging their start by deciding how many feet less than the measurements of the box they want to be, typically around 3 feet under at traditional rodeos2.


Once the calf is given an appropriate head start, the roper begins the chase. The key to success in breakaway roping is to stay focused and have a fast, accurate throw. The breakaway roper must make a legal catch, which typically involves the lasso loop going around the calf’s head, its neck, or one of its horns3.

Breaking Away

After making a legal catch, the rope attached to the saddle horn breaks away. This breakaway moment is critical as it signifies the successful completion of a roping run. The fastest time wins the competition4. Ropers need to be cautious of penalties, such as the 10-second added penalty for breaking the barrier too early and not giving the calf enough head start5.


  1. https://breakawayroping.com/pages/breakaway-roping-101

  2. https://breakawayropingjournal.com/roping-tips/101/5-elements-of-success-in-breakaway-roping-with-linsay-sumpter/

  3. https://www.aqha.com/-/breaking-roping-6-essentials-for-a-fast-run

  4. https://breakawayropingjournal.com/roping-tips/breakaway-roping-101/

  5. https://breakawayropingjournal.com/roping-tips/breakaway-roping-101/

Training and Practice

Breakaway roping, a popular equine sport that originated in the western United States, is an activity where a person on horseback ropes a calf around the neck breakaway roping. The rope “breaks away” from the saddle when the calf reaches a certain distance from the horse. In this sport, it is essential to consistently train and practice to improve skills and performance.

To excel in breakaway roping, a roper must begin by mastering the basics. Building the perfect breakaway roping loop is crucial. The loop size, combined with the appropriate spoke length, greatly affects the outcome of a roping session. Lessons from experienced ropers, such as Jackie Crawford, can help roper excel in creating winning loops.

Another aspect to focus on during practice is the proper elbow position. The correct elbow positioning enhances the throwing accuracy and ensures a successful roping attempt. Frequent practice helps ropers achieve their preferred “feel” for the rope. Pro ropers often suggest applying baby powder to the ropes to maintain their slickness and prevent moisture absorption.

Apart from roping, it’s important to keep the horse in shape for breakaway roping by developing its speed, agility, and endurance. Training the horse to follow the calf closely and to keep pace with it is vital to performance in the sport.

Thus, consistent practice and attention to detail contribute to a roper’s progress in breakaway roping. The dedicated effort, both in individual roping skills and in horse training, will lead to success in this exciting and challenging equine sport.

Competitions and Events

Breakaway roping is a popular rodeo event that attracts contestants of all skill levels. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the main types of events where breakaway roping takes place, including local rodeos, state championships, and national finals.

Local Rodeos

Local rodeos are the foundation of the rodeo circuit and provide an opportunity for contestants to gain experience and hone their skills. Breakaway roping is a common event at these rodeos and is often divided into various categories, such as open, amateur, and youth. Competitors must follow specific rules in breakaway roping events, and their performance is timed rather than scored. Local rodeos serve as a stepping stone for many breakaway ropers seeking to progress in their rodeo careers.

State Championships

As breakaway ropers develop their skills and gain experience, they may compete in state championship events. These competitions typically represent a higher level of competition than local rodeos, with ropers from across the state vying for top honors. State championships often follow a similar format to local rodeos, with breakaway roping events divided into categories like open, amateur, and youth. Winning a state championship can help propel a breakaway roper to even greater stages of competition.

National Finals

The pinnacle of breakaway roping competition is the National Finals, such as the Wrangler National Finals of Breakaway Roping held in Las Vegas. Featuring the top 15 breakaway ropers from around the country, the National Finals is a prestigious event that attracts significant media attention and fanfare. Competitors at the National Finals must consistently perform at a high level, with the title of world champion on the line. The 2022 National Finals Breakaway Roping took place at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, featuring five rounds of rapid-fire competition. Participants at this level of competition have proven themselves as the best in their sport and often serve as role models for aspiring breakaway ropers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the essential equipment for breakaway roping?

In breakaway roping, the essential equipment includes a horse, a breakaway rope, a saddle, and protective gear for the rider. The breakaway rope is specially designed with a string that breaks away from the saddlehorn when the calf is roped, allowing for a timed run. In addition to this, riders also use a lariat rope, gloves, boots, and a helmet for safety.

How did breakaway roping evolve as a competitive event?

Breakaway roping evolved as a competitive event in the Western United States, primarily as a safer and less physically demanding alternative to traditional calf roping. It gained popularity among female and younger competitors, eventually finding its way into various rodeo events and competitions. Over time, breakaway roping evolved into a standalone competitive event, appreciated for both its speed and technical skill requirements.

What are some popular breakaway roping events and competitions?

Popular breakaway roping events and competitions can be found at various rodeos, such as the National Finals Rodeo, the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) show circuits. Regional and local events often host breakaway roping competitions, offering a platform for competitors at various skill levels.

Who holds the world record in breakaway roping?

The world record for breakaway roping is held by Jackie Crawford, who recorded an impressive time of 1.74 seconds at the 2019 TCRA Finals in Glen Rose, Texas. Crawford is a multiple-time world champion and a prominent figure in the sport, inspiring many young ropers to pursue breakaway roping.

How do you train a horse for breakaway roping?

Training a horse for breakaway roping involves developing a strong foundation of trust, communication, and responsiveness between the horse and rider. This process begins with selecting a suitable horse, usually one bred for speed, agility, and good temperament. Training methods include teaching the horse to maintain a consistent speed, stop abruptly, back up, and turn smoothly. Riders also work on developing their horsemanship skills and timing to effectively rope and catch the calf during competitions.

What are the key differences between calf roping and breakaway roping?

The primary difference between calf roping and breakaway roping lies in the roping procedure. In calf roping, the rider ropes the calf and then dismounts to flank and tie the calf’s legs together. In contrast, breakaway roping only requires the rider to catch the calf by roping its neck, with the rope breaking away from the saddlehorn once the calf is far enough away from the horse. Breakaway roping is considered a safer and less physically demanding alternative to calf roping, making it more accessible to a wider range of competitors.

Last Updated on November 9, 2023 by Nate Dewsbury

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