There’s a new kind of rodeo in town and it’s one your dad likely never envisioned. Bronc riding involves holding on, for eight dangerous seconds, to a 1,200 pound bucking horse. RIDE TV’s series Cowgirls shows how grit and determination are not limited by gender. The Walter Kaitz Foundation (WKF) took a little time to catch up to the team at RIDE TV about how viewers are reacting to this new iteration of one the oldest forms of extreme sports.
Cowgirls turns the idea of bronc riding on its head as it follows the women of competitive riding. Ranch bronc began as a necessary horse breaking skill of the working cowboy and morphed into a form of public entertainment in the late 1800s, but for the most part it was an all-male domain. The show documents the resurgence of ladies bronc riding, which was banned in 1929 after the death of a 32-year-old bronc rider, Bonnie McCarroll. Up until that time, the sport had enjoyed relative equality during the expansion of the American west. The Texas Bronc Riders Association (TBRA), under the leadership of president and former bronc rider Daryl McElroy, added a ladies riding event to its roster in 2016. For two seasons, Cowgirls has been following six women on their journey for inclusion in this special club, and the varied challenges and obstacles that they must overcome in order to be successful.
Cowgirls is one of the programs featured on the equestrian sports and lifestyle network RIDE TV, which Amanda Morris, director of marketing and PR for the network, says launched in the fall of 2014 to a small group of operators. To bring their unique programming to the public, RIDE TV partners with major equestrian and rodeo associations like the World Champions Rodeo Alliance (WCRA) and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). The 24-hour network is available to 40 million homes on both digital cable and satellite and offers live streaming events. The network based out of Ft. Worth, TX, offers diversity in content to a very passionate niche audience that Morris says is sometimes excluded from popular programming. She goes on to say that Cowgirls is breaking boundaries.
Sarah Brown is one of those boundary breakers. The now 20-year-old was a competitive cheerleader in high school before the sport caught her attention. She says she wasn’t from a family that “ran” horses, but she pursued it despite being told it wasn’t for girls. “I started roping and loved watching bronc riding,” she says. “My family thought I was crazy, but now they love it, they come to my events and are always there to support me.” Brown is now one of the linchpins of the show and says RIDE TV gave her the option to put herself out there.
The docu-reality series follows women from across the nation as they compete in the Ranch Bronc Riding event during weekly rodeos in Fort Worth, TX., and travel from one small town competition to another. At each location they learn rodeo history, get “draws”, make their rides, confer after, and of course go out and have a bit of fun together. The series strives to show what the circuit and the women’s lives are really like, including their intense preparation, comradery, injuries and work-life balance issues. And while the women are breaking records, they are also seeking parity in recognition and compensation as their male counterparts, the same issues women face no matter where they live or what they do. Season 3 of Cowgirls will see the women competing on even bigger stages, including the Fort Worth Stockyards Cowtown Coliseum, where they will compete alongside professional bull riders on the PBR tour this summer.
Deadspin, in a feature article on the sport says, “the persistence of the riders and the devotion of McElroy turned what might have been a fleeting conglomeration of would-be bronc riders into a fledgling force that may well turn out to be the first generation of a new era.”
“What Cowgirls conveys is that RIDE TV is supporting women,” says Serene Fletcher, vice president government affairs of RIDE TV. “We feature strong, talented women in our programming and that resonates with our audience.” Thanks to RIDE TV for bringing this unique slice of women’s lives to our televisions.