There's Rodeo Royalty in these here parts. The tiny hamlet of Parrish is home to a lineage of rodeo royalty bearing the name of Cooper.
Palmetto High junior Cady Cooper recently became the 2012 National Breakaway Champion a skill in rodeo that requires chasing cattle.
While Cady doesn't exactly wrestle steer to the ground, breakaway roping is when an athlete starts out of the gate or, "box" after a young cow and tries to lasso the animal as quickly as possible. The time starts when the chute doors open and the cow bursts out and runs until when the rider snares the animal and the animal pulls the lasso taut, breaking the string fastened to the saddle horn. When the string pops off the time stops. Cady broke an arena record back in July at the Rock Springs, Wyoming National Rodeo Championships with a time of 2.03 seconds.
The way breakaway roping works is competitors, as many as 150 from all over the country and from Canada and Australia, participate in two preliminary rounds. Their times are averaged and the top 15 average times move on to the, "short" round. In the short round, the top 15 athletes rope one more time and their total times for all three rounds are averaged to determine a winner. Last year, Cady's sister, Cheree came in fifth place at the competition. In 2012, Cady swept away the field, winning the first two rounds and the short round.
Cady, 16, is no stranger to the rodeo circuit. She is a fourth-generation rider and one of four members of her immediate family that is a competitive rider. Cady's great grandfather, Ralph Clark was an amateur rider and competitor. Great grandpa Clark started the ranch that the Coopers currently operate way down by Fort Hamer Park in Parrish.
Cady's grandfather, Wendell, was a professional steer wrestler and bull rider in his day and won four state championships. Father, Wade, has been a steer wrestler with, "35 years all in." Cady's older sister, Cheree, in now at the University of West Alabama as a competitive rider, currently ranked third in the Ozark region. Even Cady's younger brother, Jace, 12, competes.
Both Cady and Cheree have been riding horses since they were small children. It was not until Cady was in the fifth grade that the sisters discovered that they liked roping.
"I was not going to make them try rodeo, mom (Lorrie) was opposed to the idea," Wade said. "But I wasn't going to stop them if they wanted to."
Within a month, the girls, Cheree and Cady were competing in breakaway roping and goat tying. Goat tying is when the rider jumps off their horse mid-stride, tackles and ropes a tethered goat, again for time. Cady is currently ranked third in the state of Florida in goat tying, according to dad.
The sibling rivalry fueled daily practices at the Cooper Ranch and before long, both girls found tremendous success roping and tying. Cady took her breakaway roping skills to the next level when she acquired Petey, a now 14-year-old gelding quarterhorse. Cady and Wade had seen Petey compete in barrel racing around the local rodeo circuits and saw him as a potential breakaway roping mount. Wade liked Petey's ability to run hard but also stop quickly, essential skills in breakaway roping.
"He (Petey) had some bad manners in the box," or starting gate, Wade said. "But Cady schooled on him a little bit and he turned out great."
Since then, Cady and Petey have an indelible bond. Cady recalls an incident when she fell off Petey and found herself under his feet.
"He (Petey) was trying to step around me when one hoof landed right on my chest," Cady said. "I got my hands under his hoof and as soon as he felt me under that leg, he stutter-stepped and took the weight off of that foot, then he just backed off."
An incident like that might end a career, but not for Cady.
"I was kind of freaked-out but papa said just get back on," Cady said. "You get made fun of around here if you don't get back on."
Cady uses a different horse, Cactus, for goat tying but her reputation locally and nationally is cemented. Cady is currently looking at a handful of colleges and universities including Panolla, Troy and Arkansas. Cady currently boasts a 4.2 weighted GPA at Palmetto and is just the fourth ever national breakaway champion from the state.
"She can go to any of those schools if she wants to," Wade said.
Cady still has her best roping in front of her. She has a handful of events in the local circuit as well as the state finals in Davie in late spring of next year. She could be the first woman to repeat as national breakaway champion in three decades.