Riding Rodeo’s Roller Coaster
Remembering that everything is temporary in rodeo.

This morning, I sat down to upload a few older stories to this website in between phone calls for the next issue of The Team Roping Journal. I flipped through past issues and realized I’d never uploaded an article I wrote in February about Kaleb Driggers. I wrote it after fans voted him the 2016 Header of the Year, on the heels of the season where he won $230,000 in ProRodeo competition and finished second in the world standings behind Levi Simpson. 

I wanted to make sure I hadn’t already posted it, so I searched “Kaleb Driggers” on our website. About halfway down the page, I stumbled across an article with the headline: Kaleb Driggers Falls Short of Qualifying for Wrangler NFR. Bob Welch wrote it in 2009, Driggers’ rookie year. The then 19-year-old roped with fellow Georgia-native Brad Culpepper, and Driggers didn’t properly calculate his rodeo count. Despite having enough money won to qualify, he ran out of rodeos before the season ended and his earnings didn’t count for the PRCA world standings. 

That headline struck me, given the glowing article I was getting ready to post about his dominance on the head side today. Driggers has $112,807 won so far this year, with a $5,000 or so lead over Erich Rogers, and he’s definitely one of the most business-savvy guys on the road today. If anyone knows how to enter and strategize now, it’s Kaleb Driggers. 

All of that reminded me of something Kaleb’s former partner Patrick Smith said in our Young Guns section in Spin To Win Rodeo a few years ago. 

Everything I’ve ever accomplished in my career that stands out—winning the BFI, gold buckles, the George Strait, the American—for all of those accomplishments, I’ve also had the same opportunity and failed to accomplish it. I’ve had the same chances and lost. That’s not published, you don’t read about it. You don’t get the phone calls from all of your friends and family when you drop the ball to win something like that. When the light shines on you and you’re on the mountaintop, everything is great. But when you drop the ball is when being mentally tough comes into play. 

Driggers knew that even then. When Bob spoke to him in 2009, he said, “”If I head like I am supposed to, I’m going to make the Finals.” 

Seeing the forest through the trees can be so impossible in team roping, when some summers are such a slog, costing thousands and winning so very little. But thankfully, we’ve got the chance to step back, even if it is just with a quick web search, to see that we aren’t alone. The best in the world have fallen short, missed the big ones and broken out when it counted most. They’ve made mental errors when they most needed to be mentally tough–but what sets them apart is that they’re still on the road, battling it out, remembering to trust the process. If there’s one thing that I can say the guys I talk to for this job day in and day out have in common, it’s their ability to mentally separate themselves from this roller coaster. 

When you get the first copy of The Team Roping Journal in your mailboxes in the next few weeks, you’ll see a new section called Inner Strength. It’s a page dedicated to the mental game, with a new top-dog describing his mental strategy each month. It’s quickly becoming my favorite, and I hope you take the time to read it, too. 

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