Most folks in the Idaho and surrounding region will remember Rod Berheim showing up to local jackpots in his irrigation boots. He just didn’t know any better.
Early one summer, Berheim went to visit his cousin in the hills outside his hometown of Kuna, Idaho. Arvin Berheim let him run a couple on his horse, and that’s the day that changed the course of a dairy farmer’s life forever. Having never been around horses—let alone riding or roping off one—didn’t matter. He’d discovered his passion. Berheim promptly returned home, built an arena and never once looked back—except to patch the holes his first set of cows tore through the ill-thought-out arena fence.
Then, at 30 years old, Berheim embarked on a hobby that precisely 40 years later would begin to pay him back in dividends. Packing a #6 heel number, he finds himself winning more money than he ever thought possible.
“I just love to rope,” explained Berheim, a Silver Legacy member, who turned 70 in August. “I don’t think you can find another guy my age who goes up and down the arena like I do.” Now, his love of the sport coupled with his interminable practice regimen, have finally paid off.
In the last four months Berheim has been on fire, amassing more than $20,000 in World Series earnings. Placing twice in Reno, Nev., twice in Homedale, Idaho, and a first place finish in Jackson Hole, Wyo., with practice partner, Boone Seal, to take home his biggest single paycheck of $5,610.
We caught up with Berheim just after Jackson to find out how he went from being an Idaho dairy farmer to team roper, to team roping producer, and how he continues to stay competitive in an industry where the young guys most often dominate.
WS Roper:Rod, give us a little background, where do you live, what do you do?
Rod Berheim: I live in Kuna, Idaho, with my wife Carol. We’ll have been married 50 years next March. That’s a long time, ain’t it? We have four kids and three grandkids. I’ve lived here since I was about 4 years old. It’s a nice place. I’ve farmed all my life. I was dairying when I started roping. Now we have 60 acres and a feedlot that’s another 40. We usually keep around 600-700 head of cattle. We have a little less than that now, with the high prices. But, that’s what I do. I’ve just been around here farming all my life.
WSR:You had really never even been around horses, what made you take to team roping?
RB: Oh yeah, I never even had a horse. I didn’t know anything about them. My cousin (Arvin Berheim) lives in the hills, up in McCall, Idaho. He was roping and I went up there. He let me ride his horse for a couple and I went straight home and built an arena.
WSR:Did you face any unique challenges learning to both rope and ride at 30 years old?
RB: You know, I could ride pretty well, but I didn’t know anything about horses. That was the biggest challenge. You don’t know how to take care of them, when they need a blanket, I didn’t know any of that. I just got on. I didn’t know they could buck you off and I didn’t care. I was tough. It’s just the way it was.
WSR:Did you ever make any rookie mistakes?
RB: We built an arena out of woven wire. We stretched it ‘til you could play a tune on it. We got two cows in there, and we didn’t know you had to train them. We just got after the first one and it broke a hole right through the fence. We were just sick. We patched the hole, backed in the box on the next one, and it made a hole right beside the first one. We decided then we ought to figure out how to do it. We didn’t know anything.
WSR: Did you take any specific steps to improve your roping skills early on?
RB: I still learn every day. But I was around guys like Bob Johnson and Barry Johnson. Bob was a PRCA calf roper, and Barry could rope right now with anyone in the world. I went to his schools and stuff for years. I���ve been around people like that a little bit and I’ve learned things. You have to, otherwise you wouldn’t ever get to where you could do, or be successful at anything.
WSR:You went from never having swung a rope, to producing local jackpots?
RB: A guy in Kuna built a big old barn, and he didn’t have any idea why. I just said, “Can we run ropings?” He said, “Sure.” So we put on ropings for about 15 years. Carol ran the office. On Saturday night I think it was two for $3, and Wednesday night it was three for $5, and that’s when the bigger ropers came. It was three loops and gate closed. It was different then. People didn’t rope like they do today.
WSR:You even started breeding your own horses?
RB: I had a little 3-year-old mare that should have been on the track. My neighbor, Art Hardin, he used to train show horses, he let me breed to his Driftwood stud. I got a little gelding that run down the arena with his head turned to the left. He’d make the corner, and everyone kind of made fun of it, but all you could see were the feet. I won all kinds of money and I didn’t even know it was that good of a horse. He eventually broke his back leg coming out of the box. People would ask, “What’s the breeding?” And I’d say, ‘Well the neighbor’s got the stud and I got the mare, and it was true.’
WSR:Being an older roper, do you feel horses are even more important for you now?
RB: My horse is probably ¾ of my game. If you watch I don’t ever have to do anything, he just does it. At my age, I think you have to ride almost every day if you want to be competitive and that’s really hard to do. Most the time I ride every day. If I didn’t ride real regular, I think I’d be afraid to.
WSR:So, tell us about those infamous irrigation boots?
RB: We milked cows and I farmed a bunch of ground, and I didn’t have time to change a lot of the time. I just showed up however I was. I didn’t know any different. I never had a tie down or a breast collar. I didn’t know you needed all that stuff. I don’t know how to ride with spurs. It’s still true—I don’t know much. I just get around good people. I’ve got good partners and that’s really the best thing.
WSR:All of your recent wins have been with the Seal family (Bruce, Boone and Trish) and Claud Smith, do you practice with them?
RB: I go to Bruce Seal’s and rope. Boone is his son and Trish is Boone’s wife. All three of them turn cows for me. It’s really nice and really good practice. They’re just good people. You could miss five steers in a row and they’d still think of something nice to say. I’m never that way. I just say what I think and they always say something nice. Most people you rope with are critics, telling you how, but they give you a good attitude and it helps your roping. Claud, he lives in Pendleton, but I go up there once a year and we have a good time. That’s about all I rope with and I have to be careful, because if I get in too many, I’m worn out. I don’t think young people even know what that’s like. Even the traveling really wears me out.
WSR:You just celebrated your 70th birthday. Do those young fellows ever intimidate you?
RB: Not really. I just go out and rope. I really don’t like to be in the #12 because you have to be pretty fast, but the other day (in Jackson) I won it, so I don’t know. I think the World Series is for me because it is pretty much just catch them. I catch a lot of cattle, but my speed isn’t very good. I think I’m getting faster. I keep improving all the time.
WSR:Did you ever dream you could win $20,000 in four months team roping?
RB: I’ve been pretty lucky lately. Before the World Series you’d win that often, but it wasn’t that kind of money. Now it’s serious money. I went to Caldwell to one of the first (WSTR ropings). There were 52 teams and I won the #10 or #11, and it paid $3,200 a man and I couldn’t even believe it. I just won third there at Ironwood (Reno, Nev.) and we won over $5,000 a man. You read in the Spin To Win, or wherever you want to look, and the pro gets $2,500 for being nine seconds on three head or something. That’s unreal that us poor old buggars can win money like that, and that’s third place. That’s changed the whole deal.
WSR: Team roping has been good to you, but would you still encourage someone to start at 30-years-old now?
RB: Well, yeah, if they really wanted to. You gotta really want to. I roped every day and every night. It would get so late at night we didn’t know if we caught them or not. We’d jerk slack and if it took we had ’em. You gotta want it like that. I rope more steers than you can imagine. I bet there ain’t another guy my age that goes up and down the arena like I do. I really, really like to rope.