This is the heart of the rodeo season. Everyone’s geared up to make a run for this year at every level of the game. Dreams of the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) are on everyone’s minds. It’s like The Amazing Race, and everyone’s prepared. Some guys have had a great winter and are off to a strong start. I didn’t go hard the last year and a half, so I didn’t get to go to all the winter rodeos. We had to go through qualifications at some of the major rodeos, like Denver. There’s sort of been some starting over. I feel like we’ve (Jake and Junior Nogueira) done well so far, but the true tale will be told over the summer run, including this month’s Fourth of July rodeos.
Things have changed so much in the last few years. A lot of the older veterans aren’t going anymore, so you have so many new faces in the industry. There’s just so much young talent out there, and some of those young guys have been out here for a couple years now. Those guys have high expectations now.
Several of us older veterans are also out here pushing to try and get back to the Finals. It’s a little bit different for me this year having a new partner who’s a rookie. Some of the money he won early this winter didn’t count, because of the time it took to process his card after he filled his permit. So we’re going to have to have a good summer to get us both there.
There are all kinds of obstacles in this race. Not having the same earnings with each other and missing some of the major winter rodeos are a couple of them. This is also a new experience for my partner, which is something else our team has to overcome. I know a lot of the conditions, but he’s seeing this stuff for the first time.
I’m coaching my partner along, and doing my best to help him understand the different strategies in the different setups. There are times we have to take a chance and go really fast, and other times when the main thing is making it back to the short round. My experience from over the years will come in handy.
You take a lot for granted when you rope with a guy like Clay (O’Brien Cooper), who’s been everywhere so many times. You don’t think twice about so much of it, because he’s been there, too. I have to keep reminding myself that Junior’s never been there before. The travel’s tough on him also. I kind of feel like a school teacher, helping him understand how to get from one place to the next. I won’t be out here forever, so I want to teach him everything I can while I have the chance.
This part of the season is so hard. When I was in my prime, it seemed easy. There weren’t as many great ropers at that time. Now the whole pack of guys who are traveling have a huge opportunity to make the NFR. I’ve seen guys who rope really well rodeo hard and not make the Finals the last few years. This is a tough game to play, and it seems to be getting tougher every year. The travel, the horsepower—there’s just so much to it these days. It’s frustrating at times, because even when you prepare and take care of business, there will be let-downs. More than anything, you have to be very tough mentally to keep going. There aren’t many jobs where there are so many days you go to work and you don’t get paid.