photos by Sharman Petri
Cowboy's world, cowgirl's place
By Dorothy Terry
From a revolving stage in the Astrodome's
center arena, Dolly Parton wailed to a
packed crowd, "Jolene, please don't take
my man. . .".
In the chutes behind her, several young
women walked their horses, oblivious of
the blaring music, as they prepared to
compete at barrel racing-the only rodeo
competition open to women at the recent
annual Houston Livestock Show and
Rodeo, the largest and richest event of its
kind in the world.
Cowgirls are allowed to participate in
the livestock show.
"We want to keep our femininity,"
said Butch Bonine, northern regional
director of the Girls' Rodeo Association
(GRA). She has "no desire" to see women
compete with men in other rodeo events.
The GRA is the national organization
that helps professional rodeo contestants
enter national contests and keeps women
informed of what's happening in rodeo
throughout the country. GRA also sets
standards and guidelines for Approved All
In these rodeos, women compete in all
seven standard events: barrel racing, calf
roping, bareback bronc riding, bull or
steer riding, steer undecorating*, goat
tying and team roping.
"We're happy with what we have,"
Bonine said. "We don't want to compete
with men in their events. If a woman
were to compete against a man in bareback bronc riding or calf roping, it would
"We've worked very hard to get what
we have," she explained, "and we don't
want to undo any of the good that we
have accomplished. Our purpose is to
promote women in sports and to better our
"We do work to see that women get
equal prize money for their events in the
rodeo," she added. But some of the women
feel the money situation is still unfair.
"If you don't see many women out here, it's
because they're back home milking the cows."
show that women are not as physically
strong as men. It would make us look less
"Likewise, we don't want men competing in the barrel racing event. It would
detract from our glory," Bonine said. "The
men don't compete with us and they
don't detract from us as winners. It's our
Adding a women's division to the national rodeos had been considered at one
time, she said, but the idea was rejected
by the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association.
One of the competitors, Vickie Hegar,
who has been barrel racing for 15 years,
said of the money problem, "It's bad. If
the men get a top purse of $3,000, we get
"We're lucky to be here," she explained. "The men could care less about barrel
racing or whether we're in the rodeo.
The top purse money for the Houston
Livestock Show and Rodeo was the men's
bull riding event at $16,500. The lowest
purse for any men's event was $14,000.
The top purse for barrel racing was
Money was not the big topic down in
the chutes that afternoon. The small
group of women was busy preparing their
horses for the barrel races-the next to
the last event of the rodeo.
By that time, the crowd in the Dome
had thinned. Many people left after Dolly
Parton's performance. The women,
dressed in traditional cowgirl garb of tight
pants, western shirts, hats and boots,
lined up at the gate and awaited their
turn to compete.
Connie Combs placed first in barrel
racing that afternoon. She would advance
to the finals that night. "I'm so excited
and so proud of him," she said, patting
Combs agreed with Bonine's view on
competing with men in other rodeo
events. "It's not feminine," she explained.
Men greatly outnumbered women at
the Houston rodeo. A woman rancher
from Yukon, Okla. observed, "If you don't
see many women out here, it's because
they're back home milking the cows."
♦In steer undecorating, contestants
must remove a cloth ribbon glued to the
back of an active steer.
March 1978 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH Page 1