By: Kendra Santos
The coffee’s on, the sun is up and a new day has dawned for women in rodeo. More than 2.3 million fans just watched the world’s most talented cowgirls work at the World Champions Rodeo Alliance’s $750,000 Women’s Rodeo World Championship on CBS, which makes it one of the most-viewed rodeos in the history of our sport.
Cameras rolling, cowgirls of all ages stepped onto center stage and put on an epic show that did us all proud. Tears of joy were triggered by the triumphs of living legends and teenagers alike. No one understands the magnitude of this moment and the progress being made with this pivotal shift better than pioneer Lari Dee Guy, who’s everybody’s hero and was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame the same week as the WRWC, where she proved yet again that she’s still got it.
Lari Dee started at ground zero, ranch-raised in Abilene, Texas, alongside her big brother, Tommy. She watched him live his dream of roping at the National Finals Rodeo, where there was no mention of the best women ropers in the game.
When Cowboy King Trevor Brazile was a skinny little kid running wild at the junior rodeos, he tagged along with the cool kid who was winning everything. That cool kid was Lari Dee Guy. When he grew up to be the winningest cowboy of all time, he continued to seek her wisdoms and partner with her on horses. All these years later, she’s still worship-worthy.
Lari Dee Guy refused to say die on her dream that women could one day make a living with a rope. She would not take no for an answer. She rode and roped on.
At 50, Lari Dee just won $79,000 for a few days’ work at the second-annual WRWC, which went down last week at the South Point in Las Vegas. She won $60,000 for a smoking-hot 5.95-second run in the Main Event alone heading for Jimmi Jo Montera, and about $15,000 of it in the breakaway roping.
“For all the WCRA has done for women in rodeo, winning a major was a goal of mine,” Lari Dee said humbly. “It was really cool to win it with one of my best friends.”
Her mom, Mary, dad, Larry, and brother, Tommy, have been lifelong heroes to Lari Dee. She counted cowgirls before her the likes of Betty Gayle Cooper and Wanda Bush as respected role models growing up, and Brazile has since joined the ranks on her idol A-list.
Lari Dee has lived the rodeo revolution brought on by the WCRA being the first to step up with big money on center stage for rodeo’s wolfiest women warriors.
“I’ve roped and trained rope horses all my life,” she said. “Before the WCRA came along, I spent a lot of time trying to grow the sport. I just happened to be a world champion along the way here and there, but it was changing the big picture for women that I was really after. When the WCRA got going, huge things happened. People started looking differently at women in rodeo. The American came aboard. Now Houston’s going to have breakaway roping with equal money.
“When I was growing up, I was told to go to school and get my degree, which I did. After college, there wasn’t much a woman could do roping when it came to actually making a living. But I always loved to rope and make horses. There was no way anyone could tell me I couldn’t make a living with my rope.”
Partner in Crime
Colorado’s Jimmi Jo Montera closed that $60,000 deal we all got to watch again on CBS Sunday heeling for Lari Dee. Montera’s a couple years older than Guy, and is a lifelong fan.
“I remember how competitive Lari Dee was from the first time I ever watched her rope,” Jimmi Jo said. “She’s been dominant at every stage along the way. Lari Dee was one of the first girls to rope like a guy, and she can do it all when it comes to being a cowgirl.
“I’ve always looked up to Lari Dee. We all look up to Lari Dee. And not just in the arena. I call Lari Dee when I’m struggling and working on different things to try and get better. I admire how she goes about everything in her life. She ropes great, and she’s a great person. The way she treats people and takes the time to talk to the younger girls is cool. When I broke my back, Lari Dee would call or text every couple weeks just checking on me. It was such an honor to share this special win with her, especially the same week she got inducted.”
Let it Rain
Rainey Skelton comes from rodeo royalty, the daughter of eight-time World Champion Team Roper Rich Skelton and his lifelong cowgirl wife, Rhonda. The 17-year-old high school senior and her homegrown, homemade blond bomber horse, Jewel—who’s just 7—also contributed to the all-star ratings on CBS when they brought the house down with their 15.229-second run and won the barrel race.
“That night was insane,” Skelton said of Friday, October 29’s Main Event. “I had to be told two or three times that it was actually true. I couldn’t believe it. What the WCRA and (partner) PBR are doing for women in rodeo is amazing. Any woman at any age can compete and win a lot of money. To win $60,000 at one rodeo is pretty special and pretty cool.
“The WCRA has done a phenomenal job putting this all together. I’m good friends with Laura Mote, (who’s four-time World Champion Bareback Rider and WCRA President Bobby Mote and wife Kate’s daughter), and I see how much time and effort goes into this. Bobby’s in that office all the time. The WCRA is definitely on the right track. They’ve opened so many doors for women in rodeo.”
Rich and Rhonda Skelton are smart. When Rainey was young, they took her to Lari Dee for help build a strong breakaway roping foundation.
“We went to her house, and Lari Dee taught me the breakaway basics,” Rainey remembers. “She’s helped me a bunch. She’s so consistent and so knowledgeable—nobody knows the game better than Lari Dee—and she’s willing to help anyone with advice about anything. She’s just awesome all the way around.
“I watch all of Lari Dee’s videos and what she says on YouTube. I listen to everything she says. I asked her the other day about my (breakaway roping) delivery. I tried it out today, and what Lari Dee said about changing the angle of my swing worked wonders for my roping. Everything Lari Dee says is right on the money.”
Madi the Magnificent
Madison Outhier is a 19-year-old college freshman at Texas A&M who’s one of the biggest beneficiaries of the charge that’s been led by the likes of Lari Dee. Madi and her salty sorrel sidekick, Rooster, know all about making headlines on center stage, and made some more magic for over $60 grand at the South Point with the 1.91-second breakaway roping win in the Main Event.
“The opportunities women have in rodeo now are unbelievable,” said roping, polo-playing pride of Utopia, Texas Madi. “The coverage we’re getting now is over the top, and putting us on CBS last week was a huge step for us. Young women like me can now legitimately aspire to rope for a living. We don’t have to look elsewhere for our dream jobs. It’s amazing to be a part of this.
“I’ve looked up to Lari Dee all my life. She’s such an ambassador for the sport. She’s nice to everybody, and sincerely wants to help everyone. Lari Dee’s been the face of women’s rodeo, and she’s always giving back. I look up to Lari Dee for her accomplishments, but even more so because of who she is and how she treats people.”
As the first woman ever to be classified as a #8 heeler, Arkansas cowgirl Whitney DeSalvo has also already made headlines of her own in her young career. At the WRWC in Vegas, she was an all-around contender with success at both ends in the team roping. Whitney won second heeling for Hope Thompson, and fourth heading for WRWC All-Around Champ Shelby Boisjoli.
“Being on center stage with Lari Dee was an honor and just awesome, because I’ve looked up to her all my life,” Whitney said. “I definitely had the autographed Lari Dee poster on the wall in my room when I was a kid, and I’m pretty sure it’s still hanging in my bedroom in my mom’s house to this day. They say we should work until our idols become our rivals, so this is pretty sweet. I texted Lari Dee Sunday evening right after the CBS telecast, and told her, ‘Just letting you know I’m always 100 percent good with getting my ass kicked by my hero.’
“For 2.3 million people to tune in to watch us do our thing is pretty neat. This is something women in rodeo have never seen before. All sorts of new doors are being opened for us. We’ve always dreamed about it and looked forward to it. To see it come to pass is very cool.”
DeSalvo’s best known now as a team roper. But she was an amazing breakaway roper in junior high, high school and college, and with the $20,000 all-around bonus up for grabs at the WRWC might contemplate a comeback and work three events, like her gold-standard cowgirl, Guy.
“Whose hero has Lari Dee not been?” wondered Whitney, who broke the College National Finals Rodeo breakaway roping record just three years ago with a 1.7-second run in Round 3. “I remember the trip to and from (high school) nationals one year, when I wore out one of Lari Dee’s breakaway DVDs. Everybody wanted to rope like Lari Dee. We still do.”
Lari Dee has no better friend or bigger fan than Hope Thompson, who was there to see LD inducted, then flew to Vegas with her on South Point owners Michael and Paula Gaughan’s private jet to compete at the WRWC. Hope won $24,000 team roping at the South Point last week, and a year earlier made headlines heeling for Riley Smith to the tune of $90,000 at the inaugural WRWC held in conjunction with the PBR Finals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“That whole short round was wild,” she said of last week’s second-annual WRWC. “I had so much fun watching one after the other be faster in the breakaway. The team roping was the same way—bam, bam, bam. We’re all such good friends that I was just as excited for Lari Dee and Jimmi Jo to beat us as when Whitney and I were winning it. The first time Lari Dee came up and congratulated me (for winning the breakaway roping at the Windy Ryon) was like meeting a famous movie star. She’s the reason I could even dream of making a living roping.
“Lari Dee’s a big part of why we’re getting these opportunities to rope for so much money now. I was super pumped for her to get to reap the rewards for all she’s helped make happen. It’s badass for her, for the TV ratings and the whole sport. It’s a great time for women in rodeo. It’s literally exploding, and we didn’t get here without people like Lari Dee paving the way. I hope to follow in her footsteps in making a difference, so it’s even more exciting for the ones coming up behind us. Huge applause to the WCRA for giving us equal money on the biggest stages. They set that example, and now others are following suit. That’s how progress happens.”
Last Word from Lari Dee
Lari Dee is living her lifelong dream, and she’s far from the end of her rope. And just as cool as watching her do her own work and add to her body of career history is witnessing her standing in the corner of every other cowgirl there, and cheering even when they make a run that’s faster than her own.
“I love helping people and giving back,” said living legend Lari Dee. “Watching what the younger generation is getting to do and where our sport’s headed from here gives me joy. Where will this all be when I’m sitting on the couch watching? I remember when having 15 girls show up to rope at a rodeo was pretty good. Now we’re roping for hundreds of thousands of dollars. To win almost $80 grand on network television the same week I got inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame just shows how fortunate and blessed I’ve been in my life. And for that I am very grateful.”