The Greatest Women in Rodeo

Women have been part of rodeo since its early days. Here are five of the greatest female competitors in the sport!
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Women have been part of rodeo since its early days. Here are five of the greatest female competitors in the sport!
Credit: National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum

Credit: National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum


1. Mabel Strickland Woodward (1897–1976)

Mabel Strickland started her career as a trick rider at the Walla Walla Frontier Days in Washington. She also competed in saddle bronc riding, steer roping, and relay racing, competing against both cowboys and cowgirls and setting several world records. Strickland also performed in movies, doing stunt work for leading actors and actresses.


2. Tad Lucas (1902–1990)

Known as “Rodeo’s First Lady,” Tad Lucas began helping her brothers break colts when she was only 7 years old. She made her professional debut in 1917 at the Gordon, Neb., Fair, and became a full-time professional in 1922. She was one of the founding members of the Girls Rodeo Association in 1948, now the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. Today, the WPRA is the oldest women’s professional sports association and the only one governed entirely by women.


3. Wanda Harper Bush (1931– )

Wanda Harper Bush is one of the most decorated women in rodeo. She competed until 1985, winning 29 barrel racing championships and 33 world championships, including three all-around titles. After she stopped competing, she turned to training horses full-time. Today, she lives in Mason, Texas, and is widely recognized for her horse skills and training clinics.


4. Mildred Farris (1933–2013)

Mildred Farris balanced the roles of rodeo secretary and barrel racer. While she was the director of the Girls Rodeo Association, Farris implemented the five-second penalty for knocked-over barrels (prior to that, if a rider tipped a can, she would receive a “no-time”). In 1967, under the direction of Farris, barrel racing was added to the ProRodeo events at the National Finals Rodeo. Farris carried the American flag during the opening ceremonies that year, and the 15 after that.


5. Charmayne James (1970– )

Charmayne James began barrel racing at an early age, winning her first World Champion title at age 14—a title she held for the next 10 years. She rode Scamper, a horse nearly as famous as its jockey for all those titles. She won the title again in 2003. She is the all-time leading earner for the sport and holds more world championships than any other woman in professional sports. She also holds the record for the most consecutive NFR qualifications—more than any other competitor, male or female. Today, James runs barrel racing clinics and designs racing gear and saddles.