There’s a saying that, “Behind every good man is a great woman.” It takes two to team rope, and in a lot of cases ropers migrate to Arizona—a.k.a Wintertime Roping Paradise—two by two. Some of these women warriors rope. Others are there to simply enjoy the good company of the team roper in their life, and also make the most of all the sunny winter fun and festivities the Grand Canyon State has to offer, be it golfing, shopping, sightseeing, or last—but certainly not least—cheerleading at the ropings.
Many of these women have spent a lifetime standing by their team roping man, and it’s hard, less-than-glamorous work at times. They set up camp in the trailer or RV they call home for their Arizona stay. They keep those small quarters tidy, the clothes clean (manure stains and all), and food on the table—oftentimes setting extra places at the table for roping buddies who stop in unexpectedly to eat and visit.
Wintering in Arizona takes on a life of its own, and there’s a huge herd of wonderful women who help make it happen without a hitch. Whether in the support role of wing-woman—out legging up her husband’s young horse in the desert or mucking a few stalls while he runs some practice steers—or out golfing or enjoying a spa day with the girls, they always seem to be smiling.
These roping-world wonder women bring their wintertime neighborhoods to life. One of many such spots is in tiny Wittmann, Arizona, just a few miles from Wickenburg. Talk about a cowboy community. Two of the wintertime tenants on Restin Road are Bill and Pat Spratt, and Ozzie and Judy Gillum. A rock’s throw across the way, you’ll find the likes of brothers Brady and Riley Minor, and their wives, Ashley and Jordan, over on Leisure Lane.
“There are 14 arenas in our little neighborhood,” Judy said. “You can stand on our (second-story) porch, and see several arenas going at the same time. The weather is user friendly, and the horse activities here are endless. If you aren’t into roping, there are team pennings, sortings, mounted shootings, competitive trail rides, and huge barrel races. All kinds of clinicians come here in the wintertime to help people with their horses and horsemanship. Arizona’s just a hub for all equine activity—team roping included, but so much more.”
On any given morning as the sun’s coming up, you’re likely to find Bill and Brady drinking coffee with Ozzie in the cozy living room that overlooks the Gillums’ arena, which is also a regular stopping spot for the likes of Judy and Ozzie’s adopted sons Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper. Ozzie starts the first pot of coffee at about 4 a.m.
“When I get up at 6, I refill it,” Judy said. “We usually go through three 12-cup pots of coffee each morning. You never know who might show up, so I never know if I’m cooking for one, 10, or 20. But of course everyone is welcome. We always make it work.”
That’s how roping women roll. Judy Wales Gillum is the daughter of the late Roy Wales and sister to the late Jimbo Wales. She and Ozzie summer in Williams, Arizona, from May to October, and winter in Wittmann, from October to May.
“We follow the good weather,” Judy said. “Williams is at 7,000 feet, so it’s cooler in the summertime. And Wittmann’s warmer in the wintertime.”
Judy’s roped all her life. She put herself through college at Arizona State University in Tempe on a rodeo scholarship, but not until convincing her dad that girls really can rope. She started running barrels and ribbon roping at 6, but it took twice that many years until seventh grade to get Roy to give his girl a shot at what would become her passion.
“(ProRodeo Hall of Famer) John Miller was staying with us at our place in Queen Creek at that time, and I would sneak out when he was roping the dummy so he could teach me how to do it,” Judy remembers gratefully. “John finally asked my dad, ‘If Judy can rope the dummy 100 times without missing, will you let her rope on Neatwood?’ Neatwood was a really renowned rodeo horse at that time—by Driftwood, of course.
“My dad just laughed at first. But one day I got off of the school bus, and John hollered at me to come out to the barn. He had it all set up with my dad, and I roped that dummy 100 times. That’s when my dad really got behind me and my roping.”
At 16, ProRodeo Hall of Famer Clay O moved in with the Wales family in Queen Creek. Clay and his partner in seven gold buckles, Jake, became part of the Wales and Gillum families way back when, and when the Gillums used to spend the springtime in the original Cowboy Capital of the World in Oakdale, California—and Jake, Clay, and other cowboys rodeoed out of trucks and Capri Campers—Jake and Clay each had his own room at Judy and Ozzie’s.
Jake and Clay still camp with the Gillums when they’re anywhere near Wittmann, and they bring their friends.
“When Jake started roping with Junior (Nogueira), he brought Junior into the circle,” Judy said. “Junior will stay here some again this winter, including before the NFR. Ozzie sometimes sets up an NFR arena inside our arena, and the neighborhood really gets to hopping. Jake and Clay, the Minor boys—a lot of guys have come to get warmed up for Vegas.”
Judy has her specialties in the kitchen, and her roping-world-renowned tacos cannot be beat. Jake holds the Judy-tacos record at seven, and fellow World Champion Header Aaron Tsinigine is second in line at five. After breakfast dishes are done, Judy typically heads to the arena to practice, or loads up and goes to a roping with the guys.
“Even at my age (65), I still feel very competitive, because of my number (she’s a #3 at both ends),” said Judy, who helps a lot of horses via equine therapy using Young Living Essential Oils and Bemer Therapy Equipment. “I feel like I have a good chance, and that makes it fun. All the friends we make thanks to roping is unreal. It’s unbelievable how broad my roping and rodeo family is. One day I was driving to Texas, and I was thinking about all the people along the way that I could call if I broke down or needed a place to stop with the horses. That’s pretty special, and it’s all because of roping.
“Arizona has just become a winter roping mecca. There are so many different arenas—probably eight—where people can rope every day, and for a $100 entry fee you can win over $1,000. The payoffs are amazing, and you cannot beat the Arizona weather in the wintertime.”
Carol Nichol of Cottonwood, California, has never picked up a rope. But the roping matriarch has been front and center for 60 years while her husband of 58 of those years, Cecil, was roping up a storm. This crew is thick with ropers, including Cecil and Carol’s son, Bob Nichol; son-in-law Jeff Davis; grandson and National Finals Rodeo heeler Justin Davis; son-in-law Allen Gill; and grandson Brody Gill.
“Cecil and I went together a couple years before we got married, so I had a taste of it, and knew what I was getting into,” Carol laughs. “Cecil loves to rope, but the best part for both of us is the lifelong friends. We’ve spent a couple months in Arizona for over 20 years now—generally January and February—and it’s good to get out of the rain, and for Cecil to get to be somewhere with so many ropings that time of year. There’s not much going on in the wintertime at home.
“It’s like an annual reunion when we get back to the Spratts’ place (where they set up housekeeping) every winter,” Carol said. “We basically have the same couples there in camp every year, and it’s always fun to see them. We see people in Arizona that we don’t get to see otherwise, and it’s great to get to catch up.
“Cecil practices every morning there at Bill’s, then we’ll go to lunch, and play some golf in the afternoon. He’ll sometimes play cards in the evenings, or we’ll go to dinner and a movie with another couple from camp. Sometimes us ladies who don’t rope go golf without the guys. That trailer we stay in gets really small, so we tend to go out to eat a lot. We’ve all done our share of cooking over the years, and it’s good to get out. There are a lot of good places to eat around there in Arizona. Or we sometimes have barbecues and potlucks in camp. We definitely don’t go hungry.
“The best part of going to Arizona every winter for me is pretty much getting to do what I want to do. I’ve been retired for several years now, and it’s nice to just relax and enjoy life. Good friends. Good golf. Good food. Roping has never been my thing, but it’s his. I understand that, and I enjoy watching and visiting. We all have a good time.”
Jennie Spratt is Bill and Pat’s daughter-in-law, and Cecil and Carol’s Spratt-Camp neighbor. Jennie and her husband of 30 years, T.J. Spratt, work hard year-round running the family ranch near Lysite, Wyoming, alongside their daughter, Coralee. So they don’t have a set annual stay in Arizona.
“When we don’t have anyone to hold down the fort at home, it’s just not possible to get away,” Jennie said. “We go to Arizona every chance we get. We camp in an old fifth-wheel trailer, but it’s just so nice to thaw out and get warm.”
She’s a #4-plus header, and he’s a #4-plus header and a #4 heeler.
“The reason we team rope is so we can rope together,” Jennie smiled. “He has to rope with me, and I don’t rope with anybody else. That’s just the way it is.
“We get to Arizona as often as we can to hang with family and enjoy the weather. We see people in Arizona that I haven’t seen since I was a kid in Montana. It’s a great, big roping reunion, and it’s so much fun.”
Jennie grew up a breakaway roper, and T.J. roped calves and steer roped in his prime.
“When we got too old to be competitive in those, we took up team roping,” Jennie said. “And wow, it’s way tougher than it looks.”
Jennie and T.J. are relative late-comers to the annual Arizona winter team roping party.
“We only started spending time in Arizona about the last five years,” she said. “It only takes us two eight-hour days of driving to get to paradise. The first time we went, it was like, ‘Why haven’t we been doing this forever?’ At home, it’s cold and windy all the time. In Arizona, it’s 70 degrees every day, the wind doesn’t blow, and there are no bugs.
“And the shopping in Arizona is amazing. I’m a second-hand store junky. I don’t need a darn thing, but just like to see if I can go find something cool. I also like old jewelry. My favorite is old Indian jewelry.
“Arizona in the wintertime is like a fairytale world. When you get there, you don’t have a care in the world. We don’t even watch the news or turn on the radio when we’re there. All that enters your mind is, ‘My goodness, what a beautiful day. I think I’ll rope.’”