Stetson’s first bucking horse was his brother. “We had a TV stand with swinging doors,” he explained. “Rusty would get in there, we’d open the […]
On The Trail with Erin Johnson
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Erin Johnson has always believed in being consistent over the long haul. That consistency has brought the 42-year-old mother of three to the NFBR three years in a row. Erin is going into the NFBR finals in second place. She went in last year in third place and the first year breakaway was offered during the NFR, she was 15th.
Erin was the first one to ever leave the box for a NFBR event. “By the time I got there, all the excitement took over the nerves. What helped with the nerves was the opportunity to be the very first one – the first girl to rope at the NFR Breakaway Finals – I wrote my name in the history books that day.”
That first finals fell on the heels of Covid, when most of the rodeos were canceled. “That summer I enjoyed staying home,” she admits. “When you do something for so long, you feel like you have to do it.” Towards the end of that summer her husband, Darnell, entered some circuit rodeos and Erin tagged along. Before too long, her world standing went from 54th to 17th and after discussing it with Darnell, she hit the road. “I’d never gotten to do that before – I went all over the Northwest to the ones they had. We drove a lot of miles to go to very few rodeos.” Her success spurred her on and before she knew it, she was heading to Arlington. “I stumbled into it, that’s for sure.”
Erin grew up north of Burlington, Colorado on the Republican River. She was a “ranch kid,” and spent her time showing horses and cattle in 4-H. Erin and her family team roped for fun, and she dabbled in all the events at the local gymkhanas, but never competed in high school rodeo. When her parents divorced, she moved to La Junta, Colorado with her mom, graduating from Swink High School in 1998.
It was in college that the rodeo bug bit. She took her horses with her to Chadron (Neb.) State College, and the kids on the team talked her into college rodeo. She began breakaway roping, and “I really had a lot of fun. I didn’t have a lot of success, but I had enough to keep me hooked. That’s what got the bug started,” Erin remembers. After a year in Chadron, Erin transferred to the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo (now Colorado State University-Pueblo.) She continued to compete in college rodeo, earning an accounting degree in 2004.
During her college summers, and after college, Erin continued to compete. She became a member of the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association in 2000 but didn’t win a check until the final rodeo that year. As other kids had learned the ropes when they were young, Erin spent her college rodeo career learning the mental aspect of rodeo. In the CPRA, she was intimidated by the women who roped well. “I was still on a learning curve,” she says.
In 2001, her second year of CPRA rodeo, she made the finals. Her learning was advancing. “It was gradual. I was gradually learning how to win, and gaining the confidence to win.” She won her first CPRA breakaway year end Championship in 2003.
In 2003, at a U.S. Calf Roping Association event, she ran into another roper, a young man named Darnell Johnson. Erin knew him from college rodeo, but he was just an acquaintance. They got to be friends, and, when she told him she was looking for another breakaway horse, he helped out. “That gave him an excuse to call,” she laughs.
After dating for three years, they married in October of 2007. Darnell, a tie-down roper, moved to her home near Pueblo, and he added a barn, corrals, and arena to the place. Erin, who worked in accounting for several years, focuses her time now on her roping and her family. In addition to the CPRA, Erin competed in the Wyoming Rodeo Association, the New Mexico Rodeo Association, and occasionally ventured into Texas for their rodeos.
She has qualified for nearly every CPRA Finals in the last 20 years, winning the breakaway title in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2021. She won the breakaway roping title in the WRA in 2005 and 2006 and in the NMRA in 2003 and 2005. In 2007, she began competition in the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association, mainly at their co-sanctioned events in the CPRA. She qualified for her first WPRA Finals in 2007, and has won the WPRA Breakaway Roping World Championship in 2011, 2012, and 2015.
Being consistent is important to Erin. “Rodeo is one big average roping over the course of the year. Whoever ropes the most calves the best is going to win.” She sets goals in her mind every year, and if she doesn’t reach them, “it makes you tougher the next year.”
She and Darnell were blessed in February of 2011 with a little cowboy, Denton. He’s playing football, baseball, and is wrestling. They have two daughters, Evin, 8; and Annie, 6. “It’s not easy,” she admits about leaving the family for the rodeo road. “I don’t know how long I can sustain it – this year was harder than last year. Seeing all the big cool rodeos that I never got to see carried me – but now my kids are loving horses and riding. They have little gymkhana horses, and they will soon become the priority.” Erin missed several of Denton’s games this season and has found greater enjoyment in being part of the little farm than part of the rodeo trail. “I don’t like missing any of it.. I want to help the kids excel.” Now her goals are more “one day at a time – We have a little farm and a lot of animals; it would be nearly impossible to go down the road all the time as a family and I’m not willing to sacrifice where we are and our lifestyle.” She is quick to recognize that her parents were crucial in her rodeo career. “Both my parents are extremely supportive. My mom (Gail Downey) has supported me in every way in order for me to get started and learn, and my dad (John Homm) encouraged me and raised and gave me a lot of the horses I’ve won on.” She credits Darnell with her accomplishments. “If I didn’t have his support, encouragement and advice, my roping wouldn’t be where it is today. I’m ready to help my kids the same way. I am content with the accomplishments that I have, and my goals have changed. I’m going to play it one day at a time.”
Erin has spent her time preparing for the NFR by roping and practicing on her young horses. “I’ve also taken a break from the whole scene which has been good for my mind. I’ve been sitting on a swather and helping Darnell catch up and I love it. It’s fun to spend time in the arena together as a family – there’s no pressure and that’s my preparation – remembering we do this because we enjoy it and it’s not all about winning.”
She will compete at the Mountain States Circuit Finals and then head to Waco for the WPRA Finals. “We are going to rope through the NFR calves. Then I can come home and gear my practice and preparation based on what it’s going to be.”
Erin and her family from a little ranch in eastern Colorado have etched out part of rodeo history by paving the way for breakaway ropers to rope for more money. “I’ve been learning as I go,” she admits. “You have to approach it humbly and say thank you, no matter what happens.”