By: Kendra Santos
Oklahoma’s Peggy Buetzer is a 65-year-old home-health nurse. Arizona’s Shaelene Singer is a 15-year-old sophomore at Winslow High School, who’s currently juggling school, volleyball practice and rodeo. Peggy and Shaelene don’t even know each other—yet. But they share a dream—roping their best on center stage—and a giddy excitement about setting sail for Texas to take their shot at next week’s $750,000 Women’s Rodeo World Championship.
Cowgirls from every corner of this great country will convene at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth from Sunday through Thursday, November 8-12. The top six breakaway ropers, barrel racers and team roping teams will then advance to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, for the rare and unprecedented opportunity of competing in the Main Event Championship Round during the November 13-15 Professional Bull Riders World Finals.
Peggy is the oldest cowgirl entered at the WRWC, and half-a-center-younger Shaelene is the youngest. Neither one can contain her excitement about competing in the biggest, richest event of her roping career.
“I’ve roped all my life, and I’ve never had an opportunity like this one,” said Buetzer—that’s pronounced “Bitzer”—who’s been a nurse for 25 years. “I grew up in Chico, California, and when I went to Hartnell College in Salinas, women weren’t even allowed to enter the team roping at college rodeos. I’m guessing that might surprise a lot of young women ropers today, but that’s how far we’ve come since the 1970s. I competed in breakaway roping and goat tying in college, and when there wasn’t a college rodeo I’d go team rope—with the men.”
Buetzer will team rope at the WRWC. She’ll head for Melissa Brillhart and heel for Sarah Angelone, and will rope both ends on her 7-year-old dun paint mare, Ginger. Arkansas native Whitney DeSalvo—who also will rope at the WRWC and this summer became the first and only woman to earn the elite status of a #8 team roper—is Buetzer’s ultimate roping-respect gold standard.
“Whitney’s so kind and such a really nice person on top of being really good and really wise about roping,” said Buetzer, who lives in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with her fellow team roper husband, Doyle, and is mom to professional team roper sons Jesse and Casey Stipes and daughter, Kathryn Wade, who teaches ballet in Detroit. “She’s a good example of how a winner acts, and it’s so fun to watch Whitney rope. She makes it look easy.”
Buetzer loved to breakaway rope in her younger years. She shared her California youth with several future Hall of Famers, the likes of Chris Lybbert, and brothers Larry and Tom Ferguson.
“Tom challenged me to rope the bale 100 times in a row without missing,” remembers Peggy, who as a nurse who’s managed to avoid COVID-19 will not complain about wearing a mask at the WRWC. “And he made me take only one swing. He checked my hands, and knew I’d listened and done it, because my hands blistered, then bled. I still love to breakaway rope, but team roping makes more sense for me now.
“I’m more serious about my roping now than I’ve ever been, and I’ve roped all my life. Look at the money that’s in it now. I have a book where I keep track of my roping expenses and earnings. This game is changing. I rope every single day now, because it’s worth the extra effort. I work out—weights and yoga, to stay strong and limber—every day, too. I could pay our house off with what I could win at this one rodeo.”
Buetzer has just three words of friendly advice for cowgirls just now coming onto the rodeo scene, such as Singer.
“The best advice I have is, ‘Go for it!’” Peggy said. “I’m so excited for this chance. There are so many different ways to win money at this event. Until now, there’s been a huge gap between girls who rope for a living and people like me. I work with patients and doctors all day to pay my bills, and so I can afford to rope. Events like this one—where we’re all welcome—make it all worth it.”
Youngest contestant Shaelene, 15, and her big sister, Sherina, who’s 18, will both be backing into the breakaway roping box at next week’s inaugural WRWC. They’ll make the trip from their home on the Navajo Reservation 17 miles north of Winslow to Texas with their parents, Yvonne and Charley, with their horses, Baby and Bubbles, in tow.
“My sister’s pushed me hard,” said Shaelene, who also has a team roping big brother, Cy, 19. “We both qualified for the National High School Finals (at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie Oklahoma) this past summer. My dream as of right now would be to make Nationals next summer and win it.
“I almost don’t know what to say about getting to rope at the Women’s Rodeo World Championship. Being the youngest person entered is pretty nerve-racking, honestly. I see it as a big challenge. Getting in the box and just feeling the rush is pretty exciting. For me right now, it’s not about the money. It’s about the memories and how fun it will be. Traveling, seeing new places and experiencing all this excitement with my family is the best.”
Shaelene’s looking forward to meeting Peggy in Texas, and also Jackie Crawford, “because she’s a good roper, a good teacher and just a good role model overall. Peggy sounds pretty cool, too. Sherina and I have our dad to thank for getting to do this. He’s been wanting us to join the WCRA for a while now, so we can take a bigger step in rodeo and compete against the pros. So here we go. And we’re pretty excited about it.”