Women's Professional Rodeo Association
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The Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) is one of the largest rodeo sanctioning bodies in the world and is open exclusively to women eighteen years of age and older. Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Association currently has over 3,000 members from all over the contiguous United States and Canada.
In 2004, WPRA members competed for nearly $5 million in total prize money at rodeos in the United States and co-sanctioned Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) events in Canada.
Formed as the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) in 1948, several of the original members were female ranchers who had been forced to take over family operations as husbands and fathers were called to service in World War II.
Though women had played an important role in rodeo's formative years in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, competing and winning against their male counterparts, by the time of the GRA's formation women's role in rodeo had been reduced to beauty pageants, with prizes (instead of prize money) such as cigarette cases. These women were exceptionally competent riders and ropers, whose skills had been honed working the open ranges of the American west, and they found it demeaning to be pushed to the extreme edges of rodeo.
On February 28, 1948, determined to stake their own special place in rodeo, 38 women met in San Angelo, Texas to form the GRA, with the primary purpose of advancing the position of women in rodeo everywhere. They drafted rules and created a point system for determining year-end champions. Then they went to work, persuading rodeo committees and producers to hold women’s contests according to GRA rules. Committees were given the option of choosing which event they would hold, and most picked barrel racing. In its inaugural year, the GRA had 74 members and held 60 events.
The events and membership grew, and in 1981, the name of the Association was officially changed from the GRA to the WPRA. Their next major goal was to promote equality between the women's barrel race and the other events held at PRCA rodeos by demanding prize money equal to the other men's events. They achieved their goals in 1985, becoming the first professional women's sports organizations to have fiscal equality with their male counterparts.
Current events and structure
The WPRA's primary sanctioned event is Barrel racing. Contestants on horseback run a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels set in a triangle in the arena. The quickest time determines the winner, with five second penalties assessed for each tipped barrel.
The majority of the WPRA's barrel racing events are held in conjunction with Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) events. Contestants are ranked nationally, based on how much money they earned in competition. The top fifteen contestants at the end of the rodeo season are invited to compete at the National Finals Rodeo, held in December each year at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The WPRA also has an All Women's Division which sanctions rodeos exclusively for women. These All Women's rodeos feature five events - breakaway calf roping, tie-down calf roping, team roping, bareback riding and bull riding - in addition to the barrel race. Contestants count points earned in competition to qualify for the Women's National Finals Rodeo formerly each October at the Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. The top fifteen contestants in each event (team roping headers and heelers qualify separately, not as a team) qualify to compete at the Women's Finals and compete for cash and prizes. This event will now also take place in Alvarado, Texas.