The International Pro Rodeo Association is proud to celebrate over 60 years of rodeo excellence. Founded in 1957 by two rodeo promoters, the Interstate Rodeo Association, IRA, was formed as a rodeo management organization and a sanctioning body. Concerned with expansion west of the Mississippi River, this new group’s primary interest was to enhance rodeo’s credibility with the news media in the east, where fly-by-night rodeos and Wild West Shows and unregulated contests had done much to discredit the sport.
The Interstate Rodeo Association began counting championship points won at its rodeos in 1957 and named their first world champions at the end of that year. Included among the rodeos providing championship points that year was the famous Cowtown, N.J. rodeo, the sports first nationally televised event.
In 1964, the Interstate Rodeo Association changed its name to the International Rodeo Association, with headquarters in Pauls Valley, OK, where the association was located until April 1993. Offices are now headquartered in Oklahoma City adjacent to the historic Oklahoma City Stockyards. The word “Professional” was officially added to the association’s name in 1983 giving birth to the next generation of cowboys and cowgirls in the International Professional Rodeo Association.
The International Professional Rodeo Association revolutionized the sport of rodeo in 1964 by creating a Board of Governors including representatives from each segment of rodeo – stock contractors, contestants, fans, producers, and contract performers. This body became the association’s rule and policy-making body.
Revolutionary actions are not foreign to the IPRA. In 1961, the IPRA became the first rodeo association to recognize cowgirl’s barrel racing as a world championship event, nearly a decade before the women’s liberation movement became wide-spread across the country.
Women have regularly served on its governing boards and the IPRA has been an industry leader in rodeo management. A clinic for the education of rodeo judges began in 1963 and an illustrated judging handbook made its debut in 1969. In 1996, a Senior Pro Judges program was incorporated to further enhance the quality of IPRA judging at all sanctioned rodeos.
The association created the Miss Rodeo USA pageant in 1965 and began providing insurance for its members in 1966. It established its own Humane Activities Office in 1970 in an effort to minimize the adverse effects of the growing and dangerous animal rights movement toward rodeo. The IPRA was the first to develop a strong regional system that continues to reward cowboys and cowgirls who choose to limit their travel.
In 1997, the IPRA incorporated its own Central Entry System. Through the CES, the methods for contestants entering IPRA rodeos all across the United States were streamlined and therefore made easier. The CES also produced a fair and unbiased method of entering rodeos for all members.
In 1998, the IPRA began to recognize both a world champion header and heeler in the team roping event. That brings the number of world champions recognized each year in the IPRA to nine—also including all-around, bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, cowgirls barrel racing, tie-down roping, and bull riding.
From big cities to small towns, from major league stadiums to portable arenas, the IPRA has become the sports second largest professional rodeo association sanctioning nearly 300 rodeos. The IPRA has a membership base of over 2,400 members and currently sanctions rodeos across the United States with 15 of these events being held in Oklahoma. In the last few years the IPRA has also become a powerhouse in Canada sanctioning 40 rodeos there as well.
The Association began planning for its first post-season event, the International Finals Rodeo in 1968. The first IFR was held in February 1971, with a total payoff of $47,000, at the Tulsa Assembly Center as the Finals for the 1970 season. The local Jaycees sponsored the IFR. Tulsa remained the home of the IFR until the end of the 1973 season when it relocated to the Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque, NM.
The IFR returned to Tulsa in 1975 where it remained until 1990. After the IFR celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1990, the IPRA announced that they had signed a multi-year agreement with the Oklahoma City All Sports Association to move the event to the Myriad Convention Center beginning in January 1991. In 1997, IFR27 moved to the State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City. The new Ford Center in downtown Oklahoma City hosted IFR33 in 2003.
The IFR’s roots are now firmly planted at the historic Lazy E Arena.
The IPRA will crown its world champions during IFR events in January. A western trade show transforms the concourse surrounding the Lazy E Arena into a shopper’s paradise. The Annual Bucking Stock Sale adds extra excitement during the week as prime bucking stock is shown and auctioned. Contract act performers also have a chance to showcase their talents before stock contractors and rodeo committees during the Contract Acts Showcase. The IPRA also holds their annual convention during IFR week. A full schedule of meetings and seminars are held for rodeo committee members and personnel. A Senior Pro Rodeo Judges clinic hones the rodeo judge’s skills and knowledge of the events. Miss Rodeo USA contestants also have a full schedule during the IFR. The ladies are judged in various areas before the new queen is crowned during the fourth performance of the IFR.
The International Professional Rodeo Association is the parent organization of the “world’s richest high school rodeo in the world”. The IFYR, held annually in July at the Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center in Shawnee, OK, hosts over 1,000 high school age cowboys and cowgirls from across the country. Canadian contestants as well as competitors from Australia and Hawaii have been included on the entry roster. The rodeo consists of 11-performances with 2-performances daily, three arenas running simultaneously, and loads of rodeo action. IPRA personnel handle the judging, announcing, and secretarial duties of this tremendous rodeo. The IFYR celebrated its 26th anniversary in 2019 and had a total payoff of over $250,000.
For the IPRA members who choose to stay closer to home in their rodeo travels, the regional system is the answer. This system offers the top cowboys and cowgirls from each geographic region the opportunity to compete at the National All-Region Finals.
With their focus on the future of the association and the industry of rodeo, the IPRA’s leaders have their eyes trained on growth and expansion. Expanding the association into new geographic areas as well as expansion in sponsorship markets are both key factors in the future of the IPRA.
To learn more about the International Pro Rodeo Association, call the office at 405-235-6540.