I rodeoed for a living for 40 years, and the way rodeo rolls has definitely changed over time. Early in my career, we went to every rodeo that had team roping all year long. At that time, there were no limits on how many rodeos you could count toward the world standings and team roping was not a standard event, so a lot of rodeos didn’t even have team roping. One thing that has stood the test of time is that sooner or later in every professional rodeo cowboy’s career, strategy and planning based on the stage of your career come into play.
Beyond rodeo, what stage of life you’re in factors into your rodeo strategy. Most of us start our rodeo careers when we’re pretty young and don’t yet have a lot of responsibilities in life. All you care about at that stage of the game is getting to as many rodeos as you can.
As we mature, and maybe get married, start families and take on a mortgage on a place, our priorities start to change and we want to stay gone less and be home more. So since there’s been a cap on the number of rodeos guys can count toward the world standings, there’s always been a debate between the young guys and those with a few more years under their belts who’ve gone on to the next chapter of life.
The six-week stretch from Reno through Cheyenne includes a lot of the best rodeos of the year. There have been some ropers who historically got hot during that little run of rodeos and made the (National) Finals (Rodeo). After Cheyenne—right about now—each year, is when there’s typically a wave of partner changes and people who don’t see a chance of making the Finals this season who pull up and go home to maybe rodeo around the house and regroup for next year while the rest of the pack continues on and eventually makes its way to the Northwest for the fall run of rodeos. It was late in my career before I ran into that little dilemma, but sooner or later that’s a crossroads all cowboys face.
Cowboys rodeo in all different ways, and another part of the consideration on which move to make next depends on your finances. People who have to pay attention to their money and actually need to make rodeo pencil need to rein it in if things aren’t going according to plan.
It was my dream to live on the road, rodeo full time and make the NFR when I was a kid. Once I started making the Finals, I never really had the thought that I wouldn’t make it, or the thought that I wasn’t going to be all-in at 100 percent and do whatever it took to have a successful year and be battling it out to the bitter end with the best of the best for the gold buckle.
When you rodeo for a living, you gauge your year by where you are in the standings, and work hard so when you get to the NFR you have a fighting chance to win the whole thing. There are those who are looking for their shot at trying to make the NFR for the first time that tend to hover between 15th and 30th. The top 10 teams in the world don’t look at it that way. They expect to see their name at the top of the standings year after year, and are looking to be #1.
If you live long enough, you experience every aspect of rodeo-cowboy life. Through all the ups and downs, it’s important to remember that it’s such a blessing to be a team roper, because the longevity of our careers is so much greater than in other events.
Enjoy the ride, because there’s a good chance you’ll look back on your rodeo career as some of the best years of your life. It’s a hard life, but it can also be really rewarding. It’s a fraternity and a family out there on the road, and it comes with a lot of freedom and a lot of fun. And it’s pretty cool to get to live the life you always dreamed of.