WOMEN YOU SHOULD KNOW IN WYOMING: Sundance Cowgirl Blazes Trail as Professional Breakaway Roper

Pictured above is Peggy Garman who gears up for Frontier Days a year after setting arena record in Cheyenne

Peggy Garman set the Cheyenne Frontier Days arena record in breakaway roping last July. She is excited to enter the contest again this year. (Courtesy photo from Jackie Jensen)

By Elizabeth Sampson

Special to the Wyoming Truth

When Peggy Garman bursts out of the box during rodeo’s breakaway roping event, she knows she is following in the steps of cowgirls who blazed a trail before her. The Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD) arena record holder and Wyoming native knows she wouldn’t compete professionally in the sport she loves if it weren’t for the persistence of those who paved the way for the event to become part of the country’s biggest rodeos.

“It’s taken a lot of women before me who have just constantly kept entering and showing everyone that we can do this, too,” said Garman, 26.

Breakaway roping features a person on horseback roping a calf around its neck and bringing the horse to a sudden stop. As the calf continues running, it pulls the rope tight and breaks the string that attaches the rope to the saddle horn, marking the end of the run. The competitor with the fastest time wins the round.

For Garman, setting the arena record at CFD last July with a time of three seconds and winning her round were dreams come true. It was the first year she competed in the main rodeo performance instead of in the slack roping leading up to the nine-day rodeo.

“The chills and the adrenaline and knowing everything that’s happened in that arena is kind of overwhelming,” she said. “It’s a surreal moment, and you just want to take it all in.”

A Sundance native, Peggy Garman, pictured above, has been rodeoing since grade school. Now she competes as a professional breakaway roper. (Courtesy photo from Peggy Garman)

Garman’s traveling partner, breakaway roper Erin Johnson, 43, of Fowler, Colorado, watched her win last summer at CFD.

“It couldn’t have happened to a better person,” Johnson said. “She’s a little bit of an up-and-comer still, and I think that it really surprised some people. But I think she is making her name.”

Though breakaway roping has been part of amateur, junior and college rodeos for decades, it’s a recent addition to large, big-purse rodeos. Garman credits CFD with prompting other big rodeos to add it to their lineup.

When CFD opened entries for breakaway roping in 2019, all 225 competition spots filled in 10 minutes, she noted.

“That tells you how ready everybody was to get to rope at something like that,” Garman said, laughing.

As Garman gears up for a long summer of competition, she has her sights on the 127th CFD in July—and future Cheyenne rodeos, too.

“I would love to win Cheyenne,” she said. “That is such a prestigious rodeo, and to be from Wyoming and to win Cheyenne would just mean a ton to me.”

Lifelong cowgirl

Garman, an only child, grew up on the family ranch northwest of Sundance. Her parents instilled in her a love of animals, agriculture and rodeo, and her childhood activities included 4H and FFA.

At age 6, Garman won her first all-around rodeo title at a county fair.

“My love for horses and competition is what hooked me on rodeo,” she said. “Building the bond with my horse and being able to compete are what keep me hooked.”

Garman rodeoed in breakaway and pole bending while at Sundance Secondary School. She went on to compete solely in breakaway at Casper College, where she was named “Outstanding Agriculture Student of the Year” in 2016 and 2017. After earning a bachelor of science degree online in agribusiness from Utah State University, Garman resumed competing in amateur rodeos.

Peggy Garman won the Mountain States Standings in breakaway roping in 2021 just turn years after she turned pro. (Courtesy photo from Peggy Garman)

In 2019, when CFD and the American Rodeo in Texas added breakaway roping, Garman bought a Women’s Professional Rodeo Association card and has competed professionally ever since.

Garman’s horse, Cash, has been with her for 11 years and gives 110% every ride, she said. 

“He knows me better than I know me, and I know all of his buttons to make him work,” Garman said. “When we’re both on the same page, it always lines up.”

Garman spends her days — and sometimes her nights — driving across the country to rodeos year-round. In the winter, she competes in indoor rodeos, and as the weather warms up in the spring, she heads to outdoor rodeos in Arizona, Texas and Florida.

Garman plans to attend about 70 to 80 rodeos in 2023, competing in enough to achieve a good position in the breakaway standings.

Last year, she put 30,000 miles on her own vehicle, but traveled another 10,000-plus miles while hitching a ride with other competitors.

“It’s a great way to get to see the country,” she said, counting parts of Utah, Idaho and Northern California as especially beautiful. “There’s also lots of places I’ve driven past, and I’ve never seen what they look like in the daylight. It’s a great lifestyle, and it’s a great way to meet lots of people. But it’s a lot of hard work, and it’s not as glamorous as people make it out to be. There’s a lot of window time.”

When she is not on the road, Garman works on her parents’ Sundance ranch. Her duties include haying, checking cattle or cleaning corrals. In the winter, Garman helps with calving and daily feeding. She also continues daily practice runs, roping on two to three horses.

“I hardly ever rope live cattle at home and normally practice by roping a calf sled pulled behind an ATV,” Garman said. “Practices normally last up to two hours. It really depends on how the horses are working and what I am focusing on that day.”

She also ropes the calf dummy on the ground for 15-30 minutes.

“I’ve learned quickly that quality practice trumps all, so if my roping feels good after 15 minutes, I may call it good,” Garman said.  “If not, I’ll keep working at it until it feels like I want it to.”

‘A big gamble’

With traveling partners like Johnson, Garman saves money on one of the biggest expenses of rodeo—just getting there. She pulls a horse trailer with living quarters, which is where she sleeps while on the road. Fuel for the entire rig can cost between $8,000 and $10,000 per year, so staying ahead of expenses means winning.

Peggy Garman credits her parents and her upbringing on their ranch northwest of Sundance with her love of animals, agriculture and rodeo. (Courtesy photo from Peggy Garman)

“You have to be fairly consistent at winning and placing along in order to keep making a living at it,” she said. “Rodeo is a big gamble of everything having to line up just perfectly in order to have a big win or even just place at a rodeo. Because breakaway is so stinkin’ tough.”

Last year, Garman earned around $30,000—a five-fold increase over her $6,000 WPRA winnings as a rookie in 2019.  Securing corporate sponsors provides extra support to stay in the arena. Garman’s include Wyoming Downs Racetrack, Devils Tower Country – Crook County, Petersen Grain and Hay, Sabo Ridge Ranch, ProRate Equine and Cactus Ropes.

“You might have a bad week, and you don’t win anything,” she said. “Having a little bit of extra support behind you keeps your mindset a little bit better, because you’re not quite worried about the financial part so much.”

Garman also can count on her travel partners to help her maintain a positive outlook when the road gets long. She often travels with Johnson, but also travels with other cowgirls.

“Sometimes it may be necessary to jump in another rig with other competitors who may be going in the same direction as I need to be in order to meet up with the main rig,” she said.

Johnson said the duo share a sarcastic sense of humor and have fun, but that Garman is all business when it comes to rodeo.

“I know she’s rodeoing with a purpose—you just know that when you travel with somebody,” Johnson said. “She’s a really good representative for Wyoming and women’s rodeo.”

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