Casual rodeo fans might not recognize her name, but some of the sport’s best ropers often turn to Lari Dee Guy when in search of new horsepower.
The banging open of a chute gate precedes a hail of flying dirt as a calf heads full speed for the back of the arena, a horse in hot pursuit. His chances of getting there are somewhere between slim and none, however, because Lari Dee Guy rarely misses with a rope. Sure enough, moments later she lets the rope fly and makes a clean catch.
With her tongue curled over her upper lip, one can’t help but see the obvious comparisons between the Texas cowgirl and her basketball hero—Michael Jordan. In the world of women ropers (and horse trainers, for that matter), Lari Dee is a perennial all-star. She’s got countless titles on her roping record, and her horse-training resume includes a reference from possibly the greatest timed-event hand the sport has ever known, Trevor Brazile.
But few outside the competitive rodeo world or her hometown of Abilene even know Lari Dee’s name. To some, she is the sister of National Finals Rodeo qualifier Tommy Guy; to others, the daughter of Larry and Mary Guy; and to most, simply some girl with a rope.
Eight-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion Brazile says Lari Dee “handles a rope as good as anybody I’ve seen—and I’m not talking about just girls.” That’s pretty high praise from Brazile, but chances are a number of PRCA cowboys would echo his comments if given the chance.
GROWING UP on the family’s 10,000-acre ranch outside Abilene, Lari Dee was introduced to horses, ranching and roping as a youngster. But her rise to stardom was sidetracked early on because she was born left-handed. A roper himself, Larry Guy knew the perils of trying to live life as a left-handed roper. It’s easy to envision scenes from Rocky II, where boxing trainers tied Rocky’s left arm to his side in an effort to teach him to fight right-handed.
Things didn’t go quite that far around the Guy household, but there were plenty of tiring days as Lari Dee worked to overcome her “handicap.”
“My dad said, ‘Absolutely not,’ about me roping left-handed,” Lari Dee recalls. “It was hard for me to get at first, but once I did, it was all about me. It wasn’t like barrel racing, where someone with a better horse could beat me.
“Don’t get me wrong, a great horse can make the difference for a roper, but at the junior level it was more about roping good and catching than anything the horse was doing.”
Lari Dee’s main motivation in becoming a roper was the example of her brother, Tommy Guy.
“Anything he could do, I always wanted to do better,” she says. “He was a few years older—so whatever he was doing, I wanted to do. Tommy wasn’t a barrel racer, he was a roper. So I was a roper, too.”
At first, Lari Dee practiced her roping around the ranch. She’d ride in the back during roundups of the ranch’s 600 momma cows, and inevitably she’d get the chance to pull her rope down and take a few practice shots. More often than not, she caught—and then required assistance from one of the cowboys to get her rope back. The practice paid off.
“My dad made sure I could rope pretty well before I got to enter the roping at a rodeo,” she recalls. “I was 7 or 8 the first time I entered the roping. I won the breakaway roping championship every year but my first year in the American Junior Rodeo Association, and I only got to go to about half the rodeos that year.”
Eleven years later, the other girls in AJRA probably weren’t shedding any tears when Lari Dee graduated and headed off to college. Not that the jump to intercollegiate competition slowed her down any. She won the breakaway roping title three times in the Southwest Region and claimed national championships in 1991 (with Vernon Regional Junior College) and in 1993 (with Texas Tech University).
Since that time, she’s won a variety of titles in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, the Texas Cowboys Rodeo Association and the United Professional Rodeo Association. She’s also won the breakaway championship at the Windy Ryon Memorial—a storied event from which any Texas roper would love to claim a title. These days, the 37-year-old cowgirl averages only about 20 rodeos and 20 to 30 team ropings per year.
“I still like to see how I compare to the great young girl ropers that are coming up today,” Lari Dee says. “I like to beat them occasionally just to know that I still can. But for me, the best part of going to a rodeo or a team roping is just to see how good the girls are these days. That wasn’t always the case when I was younger. But now there are some really great ropers out there.”
Of course, Lari Dee doesn’t even have to leave home to see how she compares to the younger generation. Her training partner on the ranch is Jackie Hobbs, a 25-year-old roper who regularly elicits praise from even veteran cowgirls.
“She came here to work with us when she was in her last year of college and has been here ever since,” Lari Dee says. “She ties down calves really good and has sure helped us turn out some good horses in the last couple of years. And she can really put a hurt on the other ropers.”
COMPETITION HAS TAKEN A BACK SEAT to training for most of the Guy clan. Lari Dee, Jackie and Larry use many of the young horses they buy around the ranch to get them ready for arena competition.
“We’ll ride a dozen or more horses a day, and by the time we get to the last couple I’m starting to feel old,” Lari Dee admits. “My brother was a typical rodeo cowboy, in that he just wants to get on a trained horse and go rope. But I’ve always enjoyed taking a young horse and helping him become a great roping horse.”
Lari Dee tends to buy horses from 3 to 7 years of age; however, after being bucked off a few years back and breaking her leg, she now concentrates more on 5- to 7-year-olds.
“If they’re a little broncy, then I don’t want much to do with them these days,” she says. “Everybody likes a good set of papers, but I tend to just go watch the horse and see if I like him. If I really like him, it doesn’t matter what the papers say. But, yeah, it helps to have good breeding. If someone called me up tomorrow and said they had a three-quarters or full brother to Texaco, then, sure, I’m going to go take a look.”
Texaco and Lari Dee go back a few years. Brazile sent her the horse—now considered among the great calf horses of all time—when he was still trying to switch the horse from cutting to calf roping. Lari Dee “tortured” Texaco by making him work around the ranch, and helped season him for competition.
Texaco is one of several horses she and Brazile have collaborated on. The two actually go back to their AJRA days, when Lari Dee was in the senior division and Brazile was in the 12-and-under class.
“He always liked what I had—my horses, my ropes, my tack, everything,” Lari Dee says. “Anything I had, he always had to be playing with it. Sometimes I’d look up and my horse would be gone. Trevor was just my little buddy.”
Today, the two are partners on several horses, and often trade horses to fit each other’s needs. When Texaco went down with an injury in 2007, Brazile spent half the season riding Lari Dee’s Smokin San Peponchex (Boomer). He won roughly $50,000 on the horse en route to his historic “triple-crown” season.
“She got me out of a real bind last year,” Brazile admits. “We partner on a lot of horses—which I don’t do with hardly anybody else. The difference between her and most horse people is that some guys rope really good and some train horses really good, but she does both. She does a great job training the horses, and handles her rope phenomenal.
“She ropes so sharp that it gives those horses the same timing I would give them. I can get on horses she’s been riding and never miss a beat.”
So, what’s the secret to Lari Dee’s training methods?
“I just put in lots of time and don’t try to rush them or hurry them along,” she says. “I take my time and when they get there, they are usually ready for whatever we throw at them.”
Among Lari Dee’s latest talent crop is Boomer and a relatively unknown calf horse named Tams Lil Haida (Spud). The 8-year-old sorrel “hasn’t been seen a lot, but the people who have seen him really like him,” Lari Dee says. “Trevor’s really helped me a lot because he isn’t afraid to just come out and get on one of my horses. His confidence in them certainly has made some of the other guys come out and take a look.”
Oddly enough, Lari Dee’s brother, Tommy, hasn’t benefited from her training skills.
“She’s trained horses for several guys, but never any for me,” Tommy says. “But there’s no doubt she’s as good as anyone when it comes to training rope horses.”
Lari Dee counters that she saved her horses for ropers such as Brazile and Trent Walls—guys who put more effort into working with horses on their own.
And such is the life of a brother and sister who’ve spent most of their life arguing about something.
“We grew up on the ranch and did everything as a family, so we were always together,” Lari Dee says. “We love each other, but we fought all the time growing up.”
BREAKAWAY ROPING CLINICS also take up a fair amount of Lari Dee’s time. She’s produced an instructional video and travels around the country to about 10 clinics a year.
“I really enjoy the clinics,” Lari Dee says. “I guess part of that is that it’s guaranteed money. That always helps. But I also think it’s neat to see the younger girls coming up. I like to think I have a hand in producing better women ropers.
“I also like to travel, so that’s part of the fun. I did a clinic in Hawaii this year, and that was really neat.”
Talking about her accomplishments doesn’t come easy for this humble cowgirl. But as is the case with taking pride in helping others, she’s proud of the reputation she’s earned among the sport’s best ropers.
“Being known as a girl roper and a good horse trainer in the eyes of those guys is something to be proud of,” she says. “I’m glad that I was able to help Trevor the past couple of years. It’s a good feeling to know that I played just a very small part in the success he’s had.”
There’s no telling what the future holds for Lari Dee. She’s been a roper and a rancher all her life, and that doesn’t figure to change anytime soon. But even so, she isn’t complaining.
“I can’t beat this life,” she says. “We put on our long-sleeve shirts and cowboy hats and get to play cowboy every day. I don’t have to get up and go to an 8 to 5 job. My hours are probably longer than that most days, but they are the hours I choose to work. And the end result is really neat to see.”