My first introduction to reaching was when I was about 12 years old. There used to be a roping right outside of El Paso over New Year’s, and for some reason we went down there. All of the wolves were headed to the rodeo in Odessa, so they were there. That was the first time I’d ever seen the Camarillos. As a header, the main thing was that H.P. Evetts was there. He was riding a paint horse, and would come across the line and reach every run. On one run, he reached so far that his rope was on the steer but he had no rope left in his hand, so the steer took his rope to the catchpen. That was such a shocker to me. After that, reaching is all I did on the dummy. I started trying to figure out how to reach because of what I saw H.P. do at that roping. I took that back to our little circle of ropers and told them this is how the big boys do it. I practiced reaching on that dummy for hours and hours and hours. That was my mission and my entertainment.
Trying to teach somebody how to reach is almost like trying to teach them to throw a knuckleball or a curveball. Every roper has to figure out the mechanics of how to make it work for them. The first thing you have to do is to learn to do it on a dummy. That’s where the trial-and-error starts, and you have to be able to rope that dummy from different spots.
Some ropers really struggle with reaching. I don’t know how to explain that, but there are just some guys who can’t do it. And a lot of them have been super successful using consistency. They just weren’t able to develop that part of their game. Guys like that tend to make good jackpot ropers, but don’t have that extra element it takes for places like the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo).
Other guys—like Ty Blasingame, Kaleb Driggers and JoJo LeMond—seem to be natural reachers. I don’t think you have to be tall or built a certain way to be able to reach. It’s just a knack some people have. They’ve also worked hard to develop that aspect of their game. There are some ropers who can do both, and others who are strong at one but not the other.
To be an ultimate roper, you have to have a short game, a mid-range game and a long-range game. There will be times you’ll need all three of those skills in your bag of tricks. You’ll need your long game at a rodeo on a steer that runs really hard, for example.
The best guys in the world have a lot of range. One thing guys really have to work on when they reach is to keep their horses working. If you’re a reacher, you need practice horses to reach on at home and need to spend time keeping your good horses honest. You have to be so fast to win anything anymore. You have to extend yourself every time, so keeping horses working becomes more and more tricky—and important.
Reaching is a lower-percentage shot, but there are times and places when you have no choice. Look at the results. When a short 5-second run doesn’t win anything, you have to make things happen fast. When you’re out on the road and constantly having to try and make 4-second runs, you have to go to the practice pen to free your horse up. It’s just a fact that most of the contenders have a full range. There are bombers and there are hippers. The guys who can do both and everything in-between have the best shot at big success in the long run.