Happy Birthday, Dear Spin To Win

Spin To Win Rodeo has published for 20 years this month, so editor Kendra Santos reflects on two decades with the magazine of team roping.
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Spin To Win celebrates its 20th birthday this issue, and it’s fun to reflect on the ride we’ve all shared. I’m proud to be a member of the original Spin squad. Back when we opened the doors on the 16-page, black-and-white, how-to team roping newsletter, it was founder Tom Winsor, Jake Barnes, my dad—timed-event cowboy and veterinarian Frank Santos—and another very nice guy by the name of Ty Wyant. 

I’ll never forget the fateful day I got that first call from Tom. My husband and I and our two baby boys had just landed in California, and had basically jumped off of a career cliff as a family. He left his native Colorado and longtime job, and I left what I thought was my dream job as editor of the ProRodeo Sports News. It was a colossal leap of faith, as we voluntarily sold our home and cut our own paychecks and benefits packages, and moved back to the boonies in my native California with no home to go home to. We had bought a piece of raw land sight unseen, and upon arrival set up camp in a prehistoric single-wide trailer on the neighboring ranch. We shared that trailer with mice, snakes, lizards and frogs that would crawl out of the spout in that ugly pink bathtub while I was bathing our baby boys in it.

Clay O'Brien Cooper, Kendra Santos and Jake Barnes in Waco, Texas, working on Spin To Win Rodeo.

Clay O'Brien Cooper, Kendra Santos and Jake Barnes in Waco, Texas, working on Spin To Win Rodeo.

Talk about a scary move. But there were two beautiful baby boys at stake and two pivotal conversations that led to leaving all that security behind. Our first born, Lane, was the happiest baby ever born, and was just three minutes up the hill from me with Lesli Nichols and her daughter, Shali (NFR barrel racer Shali Lord), when I went back to work a few months after he arrived and after maxing out my maternity leave. The Nichols family, also including Jim, doted on Lane like he was a living doll and treated him like their own family. He was happy, and I could run up the hill every few hours to feed, hug and kiss him.

Then came Taylor, who had his mind set on a certain way of doing things from the start and never was one to take a middle step. He never crawled before he walked, and went straight from sitting up to running. He never stair-stepped from diapers to Pull-ups. Nope. Straight from Pampers to big boy pants. At the time, it was a blessing in disguise that worried me sick. But it didn’t take long to realize that the greatest gift Taylor ever gave Lane and me was refusing to take a bottle. The pediatrician swore that if he got hungry enough, he’d give in. Nope. 

I tried going back to my “dream job” after Taylor joined us, but knowing he wasn’t happy, well, that was a deal breaker. I dropped those babies off and cried all the way to work. That didn’t last long. It was pouring rain one morning when I got into my office, and I was beyond blue trying to figure out what in the world to do. I called my big brother, Blaine, and he said, “There are times in this life when you have to take a leap of faith.” Then I called Ty Murray, who by then was like a second little brother (in addition to Wade) to me. Ty told me, “Toots, when you do things for the right reason they always have a way of working out.”

I packed up my office, drove straight to those baby boys and never dropped them off again. Thank you, Taylor. Still, I was scared. How were we going to eat? My welder husband built pipe fence for the ranch manager in lieu of the $400 rent for the trailer. Then two more fateful phone calls fell from the stars. Just when we needed it most, the Professional Bull Riders formed and my cowboy friends called and asked me to be their editor in chief. I told them I’d sure help them with their cowboy-owned-and-operated concept, but that I had to do it from home. No sweat. Cowboys are family-first people.

Then Tom Winsor’s call. I didn’t know him, but he’d gotten my name and number, again, from mutual cowboy friends. He asked me if I’d be interested in being on the Spin startup team, and I heard him out. While he was explaining his pie-in-the-roping-sky concept of a little how-to team roping newsletter, I was thinking to myself, “I’ll give this guy’s pipe-dream project six months.” Though the subject matter was dear to my heart, I didn’t dream it would survive. But we needed the money. And like the guys who started the PBR, Jake Barnes was my dear friend. So, “Sure I’ll help you. I’m in.”

We were the definition of a family-style, mom-and-pop operation, and that suited Jake and me and my dad to a tee. And naturally, it wasn’t long before we added our other brother, Clay O’Brien Cooper, to the Spin family. Jake and Clay will go down in roping and rodeo history as one of the most legendary team dynasties of all time. What makes me even more proud of being on their team is the type of people they are. You can’t make those two do somebody dirty. It’s not in their DNA. 

I’ve been privileged over the years to ride along on rodeo road trips with these most humble hall of famers, and when we jumped in the truck to head to the next one there was no way of telling whether they’d just set an arena record, broken out or missed. Win, lose or draw, they are the same people every minute of every day. Getting to connect with such superhuman gentlemen these last 20 years has been one of the great honors of my career and joys in my life. 

They can be rascals, mind you—like the time they threw a rattlesnake at my feet at a photo shoot and tickled themselves silly watching me squeal and run for my life. We’ve been through some tough stuff and sad times along the way. Clay lost Bailey and Quinn’s mom, Beth, who was my buddy all the way back in college. Jake lost his thumb in the heat of world championship battle, then just about left us when his horse hit the ground so hard practicing with his adopted son Junior Nogueira for the 2015 NFR. But Jake and Clay never complain. And they are warriors. And they have lifted me up and inspired me when I’ve faced a few tough challenges of my own.

It’s that champion’s heart that beats in their chests that is the lifeblood of Spin To Win. And today’s editorial team, which also includes Benjie Lemon, Bob Welch, Nick Griggs, Chelsea Toy, Trisha Miller and Julie Mankin, is a cast of genuinely good cowboy-type people of character who share the same cowboy-code-of ethics playbook that we’ve lived by from the start. I tend to talk to Jake and Clay at some pretty odd hours—when they’re driving to the next one, before slack or whenever it works.

“Spin To Win’s kind of like my career,” Jake said. “It’s like, wow, where’d it go? It’s hard to believe we’ve been at this 20 years. Time flies when you’re having fun. It seems like it was yesterday we met in Fort Collins for that first meeting. Back then, the Ropers Sports News was the team roping bible and the only game in town to see what was going on in the team roping world. I was skeptical about Spin To Win at first—that we could talk about team roping this much and for as long as we have. 

“But Spin goes way beyond roping, and we get into horses, ropes, horsemanship, winning, tough times and everything else that goes with it. You can never get to the end of what there is to talk about when it comes to team roping. I have no doubt that the roping world is here to stay. Through different presidents, good times, recessions—roping still thrives and people love to rope.

“Team roping’s been my life. And I’ve really enjoyed working on this magazine. I enjoy team roping and talking about every aspect of the game. When I first started rodeoing, talking was not my expertise. But if you get me started on team roping, it’s not a problem. I’m comfortable. I love it. I think the best ropers take pride in being on the cover of Spin To Win. I’m very happy and proud to be a part of it. As long as people want to hear what I have to say about roping and rodeo, I’m game and will be proud to be a part of the Spin To Win team.”

Then there’s Champ, the classy, cool cat who starred alongside The Duke in “The Cowboys” and other John Wayne classics when he was a kid growing up in Southern California.

“It’s been cool to be a part of this thing,” Clay said. “It’s really cool how it started and what it’s developed into and become. To be a part of Spin To Win for a long time has been a nice ride. For years and years now, people talk to me all the time about something they just read in Spin To Win and how it’s helped them. Or they might ask a question about a recent topic or something they just read in the magazine that sparks a conversation. It’s the most popular magazine in the industry, because of the diversity of its approach. It’s informative on a year-round basis as to who’s doing what in the roping and rodeo world. The stories are good. I read them, too, because they interest me. There are good tips and teaching from a variety of the top ropers. Everyone is in anticipation of receiving their Spin To Win magazine every month because it’s a good read.”

One of the things that’s always made me most proud of Spin, which even trumps its growth and evolution from that skinny little black-and-white newsletter into a glossy, four-color, industry-leading, real-deal magazine, is Spin’s popularity with our industry’s cowboy players. We get to tell it like it is. And that includes recognizing great efforts by others, and sincerely cheering for may-the-best-man-win outcomes, even when the winners are not members of our home team.

Speed Williams and Rich Skelton followed Jake and Clay’s seven gold buckles up with eight straight, and were a dominating force in the team roping world and in this magazine for many years. 

I’ve sat on several truck tailgates with Speed over the years. And I’ve sat with him on the concrete floor in a Thomas & Mack tunnel in the hours leading up to Round 10, leaned up against a wall when he was trying to breathe knowing Jennifer was having their first baby, Hali, back home. He’s stuck around for my interview after winning the BFI, leaned over the hood of a truck in the Reno Livestock Events Center, on a day he suffered horribly from the flu.

KS with Speed

“I have truly enjoyed the magazine throughout the years,” Speed said from his usual seat in the saddle. “Spin To Win has been a great magazine for a long time, and it’s been the base of the team roping world. I’ve learned new things about guys I thought I knew pretty good. Spin To Win is legit, and I think it’s been very beneficial to the sport. A lot of magazines are struggling today, but Spin To Win is thriving and there’s a reason for that. It’s been huge for our industry. There’s no other magazine out there that’s done as much for team roping and the sport that’s in its league or competes with it.”

Rich “Roany” Skelton was Speed’s closer in those eight gold buckles, and like his legendary partner has always been an ace about picking up the phone when I call.

“What I’ve appreciated more and more about Spin To Win as I get older is that it keeps everybody updated,” Rich said while bringing up the steers one more time. “There’s a lot to learn in Spin To Win. It’s informative and, as a heeler and even after watching Clay my whole career, I still learn things from him in this magazine. I like to follow Jake, too, for that matter. Whether it’s Clay’s positioning or his swing or how he’s always working to improve and keep himself up to date, I enjoy reading about how he and all the best guys, including the younger guys in the game, break it down. Spin To Win is one of the ways I stay up with the times. The older you get the more you learn from the younger guys. Clay’s always working to stay competitive. That inspires me. And he shares the things he’s working on. I’m interested in what he and those other guys have to say.”

I got to talk to Leo Camarillo the other day on his 71st birthday. I hope and pray this team roping pioneer and icon lives to see the day that his team roping descendents get paid the same as the guys who work the hardest and win the most in every other event before he leaves his last hat on the ground in the box for the chute crew to pick up at Salinas. I’ve known The Lion all my life, and neither small talk nor blowing insincere smoke sync up with his tell-it-like-it-is style. I was on the chute crew at some of Leo, Reg and Jerold’s roping schools when I was a kid. Leo’s the mentor and partner Jake credits to this day for teaching him how to treat team roping as a serious business.

“I’ve been a Spin To Win customer from day one,” Leo said. “From the perspective of a reader and a person who comes from the inside, it’s the ultimate. This magazine is not just for the team roper or rodeo cowboy. We don’t get what we’re looking for from any other magazine. Spin To Win just cuts to the chase. It’s the real deal for roping and rodeo. The meat of the magazine comes from the stars. That’s how it’s supposed to be. We all want to get inside the big dogs’ heads, and Spin To Win makes that happen. Jake and Clay are there every time. We also get to hear from the who’s who of the sport. And about the great horses. And training. And how the best guys think about it and get it done. I read Spin To Win. It’s the No. 1 magazine in my household today, and I’m not just saying that. It’s a fact.”

Three gold buckles and about $1.5 million ago, Jade Corkill came to our place in our little one-horse town and as part of his first pre-NFR warmups heeled a bunch of steers behind Lane and Captain, the old yellow horse that helped raise him.

“I remember when Spin To Win was literally a black-and-white newsletter when it first came out,” Jade said. “I used to wait by the mailbox for all the roping magazines, so a new one was always pretty exciting. It’s neat to see how cool it is now and how far it’s come from remembering the first few issues. It’s cool to think back and realize what it’s evolved into. It takes time to be able to see all that, but after all these years of reading it I have that perspective. 

“I like that Spin To Win stays fair and does a good job staying true to the overall industry and roping population. It’s a team roping magazine for people who rope and love roping, and it serves us all well. We all read Spin To Win to find out information on every aspect of the sport. It’s our universal magazine, and that’s pretty cool. There are a lot of one-sided publications and a lot of people who put other people down. That’s not Spin To Win’s style, and I respect that. They never go that route. They don’t have to take sides, and they stay on the high road. Spin To Win just always stays true to what it is, and serves the ropers and cowboys.”

Wow. Thank you, Speed. Thank you, Rich. Thank you, Leo. Thank you, Jade. Thank you, team ropers one and all, who’ve been so generous of spirit when sharing your thoughts and expertise with the rest of the roping world. Your humility and willingness to help others is never taken for granted.

Thank you, Jake and Clay, for being my other brothers. I’ll never get over the sight of Jake’s thumb flying off in front of me at the Finals, or Allen Bach running in the side gate to grab it. I’ll never forget Clay being my first call when I jumped in to race to the hospital, because he wasn’t roping at the Finals that year and he was the first person I thought of after Jake. Neither Clay nor I could speak, but that connection had to happen. 

Clay’s the guy who described the feeling of his eyes meeting Jake’s after every successful run when we were out by the trailers after slack at Oakdale one year. Clay cried at what those priceless moments in time he shared with Jake meant to him. I’ll never stop bragging about eating you both under the table when you took me to your favorite spot for steak fingers in Lovington, after getting to experience the Jake McClure Arena for the first time with his great nephew (our Jake) in his native New Mexico. I’ll never stop appreciating the times we lounged around Judy and Ozzie Gillum's in our jeans and socks after a long day in the arena, and took turns on Judy’s massage table after we all foundered on her world-famous tacos.

Thank you, Spin To Win, for the ultimate gift of allowing me the opportunity to stay home and raise my kids. Turns out my ultimate dream job in this life is being a mom. I realize how rare that chance can be in these trying financial times for families, and I never did take it for granted. Thank you, Spin To Win, for the opportunity to meet so many members of the cowboy family, inside the arena and in the stands with our loyal, fellow fans. 

The Spin To Win family’s roping and rodeo roots run deep. And I can say with certainty and pride that we will never—ever—forget where we came from. SWR

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