A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on the winter rodeos. There’s a lot of money up at a few events, and if you happen to connect and win good at the big winter rodeos you can get a great head start on making the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo). It’s extremely hard to win at the winter rodeos. They’re all indoor and the conditions are extremely tough. The go-rounds and average are dirty tough at every rodeo these days, and the luck of the draw is a huge factor in who wins. Guys who rope really good can go without winning much in the winter, even if they’re roping great, so they end up having to scramble in the spring to catch up.
If you’re not on the medium to good end of the draw it’s pretty tough to win when it’s that tough. Another tough part about the winter is that the rodeos are so spread out. It’s hard to get the ball rolling and get a rhythm going when you have so many breaks between rodeos and runs.
The partner part of team roping adds another dynamic. Basically, every time you back in the box your job’s on the line. That’s just the pressure that you feel, because that other guy’s livelihood is at stake also. You just have to stay focused and do your job, because there are so many chances for big money in the wintertime.
Roping’s more of a mental game than anything. There are so many factors, from the horses and horsemanship to the draw and conditions that come into play. You have to be able to execute under pressure, and overcome even things that are beyond your control. I read (in the December issue of Spin To Win Rodeo) about Trevor (Brazile) and Patrick (Smith) making a commitment to each other for an entire year at a time, so they didn’t have to feel like their job was on the line all the time. I thought that was pretty neat, because that security is important to the strength of a team. You have to be mentally tough enough to get through the lulls, because we all go through them. You have to be able to pull it together, because if you work hard and have the skills you will win again if you hang in there and give yourself a chance.
In the wintertime—and every other time of year—it’s important to be able to get to a practice pen to work the bugs out. You have to keep that edge, and if you’re having troubles you need to get them ironed out as you go.
It’s not etched in stone that you have to have a great winter to make the NFR. Some guys get hot in the spring, summer and fall every year, too. When I was going hard I never felt like I really got the ball rolling until Reno, when we got to run one every day. I like that momentum.
I made the Finals twice basically starting my season at Reno in June. So there’s no need to hit the panic button just because you don’t win a bunch in the wintertime. This game takes a lot of patience, and it’s a long season. The first time I won the world championship I thought everything would be different. But less than 30 days later, all focus shifted to the next year and we were off and running again—right back to work. Rodeo’s like a merry-go-round that never stops.