KEARNEY — Joan Wells performs trick roping, something she compares to an art, similar to juggling.
“It takes a lot of practice to develop the tricks,” she said from her home in Lincoln. “Some take weeks, some take months and some take years to develop. It’s something that you just need to practice — and pick up from other ropers. You’re always learning something new.”
Wells should know.
She began taking lessons in the early 1960s. In 1979 she won the Will Rogers Trick Roping Contest taking the title of Women’s World Champion Trick Roper. A decade later she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.
Wells will show off her skills during a presentation called “The History of Trick Roping and the Wild West Show” at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at The Archway as part of the Soda Fountain Sundae series. Admission to the event is free.
Following the performance, the audience is invited to stay for root beer floats from The Archway’s vintage soda fountain.
Nebraska played an important part of the history of trick roping.
Buffalo Bill Cody wanted a trick roper in his Wild West Show. He brought a Mexican cowboy, Vincente Oropeza, to the United States to perform.
“Buffalo Bill went to Europe,” said Wells. “They did a trail run in Columbus, Neb., in 1892 and 1893. He opened his first show in Omaha and then went on east.”
Cowboys in the United States developed their own style of trick roping. In the past century, interest in the art has waned.
“Here in the United States the Will Roger’s style of roping, it’s becoming a lost art,” Wells said. “There are a few ropers down in Texas. My student will probably be the next world champion trick roper. He’s an attorney in Fort Worth.”
The ropes are custom made.
“It’s an art. Nobody really makes the ropes anymore,” Wells said. “It’s no longer made. I still use an original rope.”
In her demonstration, Wells performs about 80 tricks such as butterfly combinations, double tricks, the Big Loop, Ocean Wave and Texas Skip.
While performing at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Okla., Jim Rogers, the youngest son of Will Rogers, told Wells that she roped like his father.
“You’ve got to be physically fit, coordinated and have some strength in your arms and shoulders,” Wells said of the attributes needed to excel in the world of trick roping. “I was a physical education major at Kearney State College. I got to know a lot of the ranch kids and did a few college rodeos. I went PRCA(Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) in 1980s.”
Trick roping takes the same kind of training that athletes require.
“Before I won the Women’s Texas Skip Endurance Contest in Claremore, Okla., I went to the woman’s athletic director at the university. She was a trainer. I asked if I should put weights on my ankles. She said, no, I should just do what I normally do and add a little more each time I practiced.”
At the competition, the men bragged about doing 100 skip routines.
“I trained and did 165 at the YWCA,” Wells said. “In the contest I did 183.”