By: Jolee Jordan
Imagine being the only girl entered up in a roping full of boys. And entered up there because the idea of a “girls’ only” roping was a practically unheard of concept.
That’s the fire in which Oklahoma roper and rodeo coach Christi Braudrick forged her skills.
“I’m the oldest in my family and I have two brothers,” said Braudrick. “My dad rodeoed so I was just born into it.”
“I grew up in the arena with all of them, every day, roping with and against my brothers. When we went to a roping, there were no all girl ropings so I entered against the boys.”
With the recent announcement of huge all-women’s roping events including the $750,000 Women’s Rodeo World Championships (WRWC) presented by the World Champions Rodeo Alliance (WCRA) and Professional Bull Riders (PBR), it’s hard to remember that it wasn’t that long ago—less than a generation—that women’s only roping competitions were a rarity.
“I never thought I would see this day, that women would be able to make this kind of money, to be able to make a living inside the arena,” said Braudrick, a competitor at the WCRA’s Stampede at the E over the summer who is planning a trip to Fort Worth in November to breakaway rope at the WRWC. “I’ve kind of been in shock, it’s unreal to think about the amount of money available.”
The WRWC will feature competition in team roping, breakaway roping and barrel racing with the champion in each event—including both ends of the team roping—walking away $60,000 richer. There’s also a $20,000 bonus for the All Around winner. Just as appealing, for competitors like Braudrick, is the many ways in which a contestant can win money in Fort Worth.
“I looked and they are paying down like 24 holes at the end,” she noted. The event features pools of competition broken down into Pro and Challenger levels where contestants only compete against those of a similar skill level as they advance through multiple rounds to reach the Main Event, where the top six will move on to compete for the championships during the PBR World Finals in Arlington, Texas.
“I’m getting older but I’m glad I still have a chance at this money,” she said.
Despite the lack of opportunities in her youth, Braudrick credits her upbringing with forging a toughness in her.
“My brothers were always teasing me, in fun, about being a girl and it made me want to get better and beat them,” she laughed. “Like, I’ll show you! It fueled my fire to be better so I wouldn’t have to hear them razz me.”
Braudrick even recalled riding steers at junior rodeos in order to have another event towards the all around . . . there was just one, not one for boys and one for girls.
In fact, it wasn’t until the Tahlequah native started high school rodeo that she competed solely against those of her gender. By then, she’d found a role model for girls like herself, an idol who was making a big path for women in the sport of rodeo: Betty Gayle Cooper Ratliff.
Cooper Ratliff was coaching the rodeo team at Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SOSU) at the time. “Southeastern was a powerhouse, they won so much. And so did she on her own.”
“I made up my mind that I wanted to go there and rodeo for Betty Gayle.”
Growing up in a famous rodeo family, Cooper Ratliff won her first national title in junior rodeo at the age of 12. She attended Eastern New Mexico on the first rodeo scholarship given to a female athlete, earning two National titles and three regional championships. In 1976 she earned her Master’s s degree at SOSU and became the head coach of both their men’s and women’s rodeo teams. As coach, Cooper Ratliff led her teams to an astounding nine team titles at the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) and five Reserve titles. Twenty-four of her student athletes earned individual championships at the CNFR.
“She was a woman coaching back when there weren’t any. And I think she still holds the record for any coach for most championships in college rodeo,” said Braudrick, who arrived in Durant as a junior after two years at Murray State.
Braudrick went to work thirty hours a week for Cooper Ratliff at the University’s Equestrian Center and was soon a traveling partner as Cooper Ratliff introduced her to the world of Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) All Girl rodeos; Cooper Ratliff held nine WPRA World Championships.
“It was the first time I’d ever gone to WPRA stuff,” remembered Braudrick, who earned the WPRA Timed Event Rookie of the Year that season. One memorable trip took them back to New Mexico where they stayed with Cooper Ratliff’s family. “It was the coolest trip ever. The people I got to meet were amazing. And we went to a WPRA rodeo in Santa Fe that was just awesome.”
Braudrick loved the atmosphere and camaraderie of the women’s rodeos but financially, they just didn’t work.
“We went all over and literally roped for nothing, just to have fun,” she laughed. “We stayed with friends we made along the way to save money, so we met lots of great people. But you couldn’t possibly make a dollar.”
“It just didn’t make sense financially,” she admitted.
Like so many other female rodeo athletes, she cycled through her time at the women’s rodeos, graduated college and went to work. Her competitive career inside the arena took a backseat to work and family; she and husband Kyle have a daughter Jayci and son Zane. She eventually found her way back to Southeastern Oklahoma State.
“I remember driving in a vehicle with Betty Gayle back then and we were talking about her job,” said Braudrick. “I told her, ‘you have the best job in the world.’ She just laughed and said, ‘how much do you think I make in this best job in the world?’ All I knew was she got to be around horses all day and go to rodeos.”
Cooper Ratliff passed away in 1999 after a long fight with breast cancer, leaving a hole in the University’s rodeo program that hadn’t found quite the right fit at the helm until Braudrick arrived back in Durant.
“I’d been coaching basketball and we’d moved to southeastern Oklahoma where my husband is from. I actually drove by Southeastern on my way to work every day,” she said. After telling her husband for a long time that she would apply if the job every came open, she took over in 2013.
“It was the coolest thing, it really felt like I’d come full circle,” she said. “In fact, Betty Gayle’s son Cooper, who . . . I was there when she was pregnant with him, I was there when he was born. I was one of his first babysitters, he was on the road with us to those all girl rodeos. Cooper was on the team when I took over so he was on my first team.”
In her first years, Braudrick started a SOSU Rodeo Hall of Fame and initiated the annual Betty Gayle Cooper Ratliff Memorial Rodeo to honor her friend and legend of the sport.
“It’s just fitting,” said Braudrick. “She was friendly and helpful, just really a good person. And she always treated me like her second child. I learned so much from her.”
Braudrick also got Betty Gayle’s team back to their winning legacy, earning three NIRA Regional team titles with student athletes earning four National titles and 15 Regional championships. In 2019 Braudrick was named the NIRA Central Plains Region’s Coach of the Year.
With her kids grown up and off to college—and women’s rodeo opportunities expanding like never before—Braudrick also picked her rope back up.
“Rodeo for women is so different today. So many of these girls today are professionals—they do this all day long, every day. There is more money and more very serious competitors.”
“It’s cool that more girls will be able to do this in the future,” she added.
Braudrick believes Cooper Ratliff would have thrived in today’s competitive environment, both inside and outside the arena.
“It would be unreal, what someone like her would be able to do today,” said Braudrick, who noted that Cooper Ratliff also patented and sold one of the first reusable breakaway hondos to use for practice. “Her marketing ideas and her roping, she would have done amazing.”
Despite protests of her age, Braudrick noted that she and her husband will become grandparents in 2021 when daughter Jayci gives birth, Braudrick is still finding plenty of success inside the arena. She qualified for the first WPRA Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo Breakaway Roping in 2020, winning a go round.
“It’s harder now,” she said of competing. “When I was younger I didn’t feel that I needed to practice as much. Now, if I’m not out there every day, I feel like I’m not prepared.”
“But I’m going to enjoy this as long as I can.”
The Women’s Rodeo World Championship will be held in Fort Worth at the Will Rogers Memorial Center on November 8-12 with Qualifier Rounds, Main Event Top 24 & Top 12 before moving to AT&T Center in Arlington for the Main Event Top 6 Championship Round. Open entries close October 25 at 11:59 P.M. WCRA Leaderboard Pool entries are open October 27 at Noon and close October 29 at 5 P.M. All times are Central.