ARLINGTON, Texas — In many ways, this year’s version of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was a departure from competitions of years past.
But for Cassie Bahe-Latham, one contrast underlined in the 2020 event represents a more than welcome shift in tradition.
For the first time in 35 years, the season-ending championship event for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association was held in Las Vegas. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to move the event from Sin City to Arlington, Texas’s Globe Life Field — the new $1.1 billion stadium built for Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers. Social distancing restrictions in place in Nevada would have prohibited fans from attending the event, necessitating the move to Texas, according to a PRCA press release.
Aside from the pandemic-related changes, the 2020 NFR also featured women’s breakaway roping for the first time ever.
Bahe-Latham, who currently resides in Idaho but was born in Salt Lake City and raised in Grantsville, came into the event ranked No. 1. The 25-year-old says she’s been roping for 20 years now, nudged into the sport by her father, Francis Bahe.
She won the roping event this year at the prestigious Fort Worth (Texas) Stock Show and Rodeo. In 2019, she finished second in the Wilderness Circuit Breakaway Roping standings, directly behind her younger sister Anna. That year, she also finished 25th overall in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Breakaway World Standings, this time one spot in front of her sister. In 2018, she finished her rookie season in the WPRA ranked 28th, and in 2017 she was a College National Finals Rodeo short round winner.
According to the Cowboy Lifestyle Network, breakaway roping is a type of calf roping. But unlike other roping disciplines, the calf is not tied or thrown. This event features a single rider on a horse, plus a calf.
Bahe-Latham said she enjoys the sport because it offers a unique challenge.
“It’s a sport with a lot of variables,” she said. “There’s me, my horse and the calf. So, there’s three minds out there and they’re all thinking different things.”
Practicing the sport also involves some distinct barriers. Bahe-Latham said getting reps typically requires an arena and calfs — two things that aren’t always readily available. She said she relies on friends, acquaintances and really whoever or whatever can facilitate the practice necessities.
So while getting regular practice in can be tricky, there are two constants: Bahe-Latham and her horse. She rides a 6-year-old gelding named Smokey. She says the relationship she’s developed with her animal is another reason her love for the sport runs deep.
“Smokey is naturally kind of lazy,” Bahe-Latham says with a laugh. “But we’ve been able to do pretty well together. It’s just cool to see how he’s grown.”
Widely considered the Super Bowl of rodeo, the NFR has been held annually since 1959, showcasing the world’s best cowboys and cowgirls, barrel racers and livestock. Here is a list of other Utahns who qualified for the 2020 event: Kaycee Feild of Genola, bareback riding; Stetson Wright of Milford, bull riding and saddle bronc riding; Ryder Wright of Milford, saddle bronc riding; Allen Boore of Axtell, saddle bronc riding; Mason Clements of Draper, bareback riding; Rusty Wright of Milford, saddle bronc riding; Tyler Bingham of Honeyville, bull riding.