By NATALIA V. NAVARRO
Arizona Sonora News
Tabytha Friend holds onto her hat in high winds while circling at the Wentz Point Arena in Marana, Arizons.(Photo by Rebecca Noble / Arizona Sonora News)Dust flies and cheers erupt over country music as a woman from the University of Arizona Rodeo Club enters the arena.
In 18 seconds it’s over.
The women in the UA Rodeo Club are trampling cowgirl stereotypes all year round in intense competition like the Wentz Point Arena Wednesday Night Jackpot Barrel Race early last month.
“When a lot of people think about cowgirls, they think of, like daisy dukes and tied up plaid shirts and it’s nothing like that,” said Tabytha Friend, a biology major and a transfer from Cochise College. “We probably get just as dirty as the boys if not dirtier. We do everything the guys do. We ride just as hard. We play in the mud just as hard.”
The UA hosts the oldest collegiate rodeo team in the country. The 78-year-old club consists of 14 college students who, for the most part, own, train and care for their horses by themselves.
There are several events that are traditionally open only to men such as bareback riding and bull riding. However, in collegiate competitive rodeo, women actually compete in a larger number of events.
“There have always been women in college rodeo because of the extra events,” said Elaine Marchello, who is the UA Rodeo Club advisor and who also boards most of the students’ horses.
In fact, women have had opportunities in rodeo since earliest days of rodeo in the late 1800s, according to the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.
“There are aspects that make it a men’s sport, but I feel like it’s for everybody, really,” said Shannon Torres, a member of the UA Rodeo Club. “Anyone who really has the heart for it.”
The barrel race is the most popular among female riders. The competitors run their horses into a large arena, making cloverleaf pattern loops around three barrels as fast as they can. The fastest can do it in about 16 seconds.
The best parts about rodeo are “the friendships and the families you create,” Friend said. “Your horse is like your best friend. It has to be or else you’re kind of screwed. We are more like a family.”
The women joke about being strong independent cowgirls, but their dedication to their sport has made them just that, Marchello said.
“I cannot say enough about how great these kids are,” Marchello said. “They are very polite, they clean up after themselves. They’ve learned how to be responsible because they have to care for these animals. It takes a certain dedication.”
Torres, a freshman studying veterinary science, has been doing rodeo for 12 years. She spends eight hours training and caring for her horse at Marchello’s 22-acre ranch during the school week and even more hours on the weekends.
She also works almost full-time to fund her rodeoing. During the summers, she travels to a fishery in Alaska during the salmon run where she works 100 hour weeks with no days off to help pay for her expenses.
“It’s what you do to keep your horse,” Torres said.
The UA rodeo women are no friend to the idea that rodeo is a men’s sport.
“I feel like the industry almost comes off as closed,” Torres said. “You’ve got to be tough. We’ve all been bucked off. We’ve all had bad days. I feel like more women should be involved. It’s a little intimidating for some women to get into it. People think that if you aren’t raised doing it that you can’t do it but that’s wrong.”
In the end, rodeo is about the rider’s relationship with her horse.
“My horse is exactly like my best friend or even my child,” Friend said. “I take care of her and she takes care of me. She trusts me that I’m never going to lead her into danger and she doesn’t buck me off and hurt me — so I think it’s an equal trade.”
Download high resolution images here.