I don’t know if you’re ever really ready to rodeo. It’s tough, and you have to have an open mind. Very few people make the NFR their first year because there’s a lot of learning curves in rodeo. You have to learn how to enter, how to win and how everything works. But there are a few tips that can start you on the right track if you think you’re ready to hit the road.
The first thing you need is a really good horse. That’s the most important thing, really. It wouldn’t hurt to have two—one good one and one backup horse, at least. And you’ve got to know how to keep them healthy and working, and learning that is much harder than you think. That comes with years of doing it and knowing when your horse is sore, when you need to go to the vet and when they need to be injected. You’ve got to be aware of your horse. You need to know how many steers to rope on him in the practice pen. You’ve got to know how to keep him in shape and how to keep up with his shoeing. You’ve got to take really good care of him because he’s your living.
You need a veteran who can teach you how to enter. You’ve got to be around the right people. If you have a chance to buddy with somebody who knows how to enter, you can learn the ropes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to ProCom. Knowing how to get up and where can really make or break your season.
Keeping positive people in your life is huge, too. When I roped with Trevor (Brazile), that was one thing that was so crazy to me. He was so positive. If he missed, you’d wait just two minutes and it was over. A short memory is everything in rodeo. Roy Cooper is one of the most positive people I’ve ever been around. We’d be practicing at Trevor’s and he’d be over there telling us how great we were going to do. Confidence is really hard to get and really easy to lose. Keeping positive people around can keep you up when you need it most. Being around positive people when you’re young can really build that foundation.
I started out with $5,000. I hate to put a number on what it takes to make it, though. Because if you have the will to win, money doesn’t matter. You can’t say you need X amount to make it, because $5,000 doesn’t last very long.
Honestly, if you’re not dominating at the jackpots around your house and at the amateur rodeos, you’re not ready. That’s just how it is. Because you’re going into the ocean instead of the pond against the best guys in the world. It took me four years to make the NFR. The big deal was learning how to win—knowing when to throw fast and when to catch. That takes time. You don’t know that when you start. You don’t know which rodeos are going to be tough. Knowing those little things like that are huge. Take Greeley, Colo.—usually, you can go make two good runs and you won’t win worse than second. Other rodeos, you’ve got to be 4.2 to win anything. It takes time and experience to know all of that, no matter how well you rope.
Travis Graves is a father to two great kids—son Tee, age 4, and daughter True, 2. He teaches private lessons and clinics at his home in Morgan Mill, Texas, and can be reached through messaging at Facebook.com/TravisLeeGraves. SWR