Willow Wilson

Road to the NFR Open

Handy With a Rope

By Kristen M. White

WPRA photos by Rodeobum.com (James Phifer)

Willow Wilson has some new adventures on the horizon this year, after winning the year-end breakaway roping title in the Mountain States Circuit. Doors are open not only for the NFR Open, but for some of the big winter rodeos like San Antonio and Houston.

Willow Wilson

Photo by Tanya Hamner

“I’m a circuit cowgirl for sure,” Wilson said. “But since I’m sitting good, we’re going to give those a try. It’s all new. And the NFR Open, that was a big goal, to get to go there and run at a lot of money. That should be a lot of fun.”

            Wilson won the year-end title and finished second in the average at the Mountain States Circuit Finals. She finished second in the first round and tied for third in the second round. Those checks, along with the check for second place in the average, helped put her over the top for the year-end title.

Willow Wilson

WPRA photos by Rodeobum.com (James Phifer)

Willow Wilson

WPRA photos by Rodeobum.com (James Phifer)

“It was a pretty close race,” Wilson said. “All of us girls were pretty close. We all roped good all summer, picking up a bit of money everywhere, so I definitely didn’t have it wrapped up.”

Wilson credited Cheyenne Frontier Days for helping boost her to the year-end title. She said the rodeo was “really good to me,” as she made it back to the short round and won about $4,500 in total at the rodeo.

“We go to a lot of circuit rodeos because we have great ones in the Mountain States – Sheridan, Cheyenne, Greeley … the goal is to make the Finals. Definitely the goal.”

Now, with that goal met and the NFR Open on her schedule later this year, Wilson can see where else her love of roping might take her.

In addition to breakaway roping, Wilson also team ropes in the PRCA with her husband, Todd. She in fact holds the distinction of being the only female to make the short round of team roping at Cheyenne Frontier Days, so it’s clear she’s good at her craft.

Willow Wilson

WPRA photos by Rodeobum.com (James Phifer)

In 2013, Willow Raley (now Wilson) made history qualifying for the short round at the Cheyenne Frontier Days heading for Pake Younger from Grand Junction, Colorado. Photo by Fred McClanahan Jr.

Growing up, Wilson said she “wasn’t really a very good barrel racer,” and because until a few years ago professional breakaway roping didn’t have a ton of opportunities, she leaned into the team roping. She’s had her PRCA card since 2008.

Now that breakaway roping is catching fire, being added to more and more rodeos and gaining more added money, she’s excited to be part of the movement.

“It’s made a lot of ropers come out of the woodwork that had kind of hung it up,” Wilson said. “That’s part of why I was doing the team roping. It’s been great to be able to breakaway rope and let people know that girls can rope too!”

For Wilson, rodeo is largely a full-time gig. She builds saddle pads and trains some horses to help keep her bank account full. Todd also has a flexible job, so together they travel and rodeo when their schedules allow.

In fact, he talked her into entering the WPRA Finals last fall, and because it’s about an 18-hour drive from their home in Baggs, Wyoming, she wasn’t sure she wanted to go. However, Wilson won the breakaway average title at the WPRA Finals, making it a worthwhile trip.

“I love roping,” Wilson said simply. “I love the unpredictability of it. You could draw good or bad, and you have to use what you’ve got. You really rely on you and your horse to make the best of it and that’s what I love.”

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