You'll never meet a more humble cowboy than George Strait. Side one is a country music giant who, since his monumental debut in 1981, has sold over 60 million albums and raked up 50 number one songs-more than any other single artist in history. He holds the Country Music Association's all time record for most career nominations with a total of 71. He's been the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year five times, and is the only artist to be so honored in two different decades. He's sold out thousands of concerts nation-wide, performed for current and former Presidents, and starred in his own hit movie, Pure Country. Most recently, in 2003, he received the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush, was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and received the Academy of Country Music's Gene Weed Award for Special Achieve-ment. And that's all just the tip of the steer's horn for awards and accomplishments.
Meanwhile, on the flip side, the Poteet, Texas native is quick to count his blessings and views himself as nothin' but a cowboy. Proof positive-he recorded a recent hit single "Cowboys Like Us." And, like us, he idolizes Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper, and Speed Williams and Rich Skelton. And, of course, he ropes every chance he gets. He's a man of few words, until, as with any cowboy, you mention the topics of horses, cattle, and ropin'.
"Team roping is my passion," Strait confessed. "It plays a huge role in my life. When I'm home, which is more and more these days, I try to rope every day and as long as I'm able. I'll always try to improve my roping, because you only get out of it what you put into it, and it's a constant effort to get better. I, like every other team roper out there, admire Jake and Clay," he continued. "Their talents are incredible, and they both showed the world that they're far from finished at the Wrangler NFR last December. I'm also a huge fan of Speed and Rich. They don't show any signs of slowing down either. Speed was certainly named appropriately, wasn't he?" he quipped.
Although he grew up in a ranching environment, Strait didn't get bit by the competitive team roping bug until he was in his early twenties. Initially, he took a swing at teaching himself. "By doing that, I managed to pick up a few bad habits that I constantly work on to this day," he said. "That's why it's important to have a good teacher. I'm not saying you can't learn on your own, but I think it's important to learn some proper fundamentals and then build on those. That way, you probably won't have to do as much tweaking later on if you avoid getting into bad habits."
In this case, help with the fundamentals came via dear friend and fellow roper, Bret Beach, who Strait credits for helping him with his roping more than anyone.
Team roping isn't just a personal passion; son Bubba shares the desire. In fact, like any proud papa, Strait said his biggest personal roping accomplishment is "winning with my son, Bubba. Fortunately, he shares this passion. It's the greatest feeling in the world to watch my son win a roping, or even to just watch him compete. I'm sure I'm way more nervous than he is when I'm just watching," he shared. "Bubba and I have been fortunate to win a couple of buckles together, and that, my friends, is the ultimate."
These days, Strait's also trying his hand at raising ropin' cattle and ropin' horses. He owns a few Corriente cows, as he decided to raise his own herd as they'regetting harder to come by from Mexico. As for horses-there's another hot topic.
"I have a few broodmares that I breed to my Zan Parr Bar stud-Zan Silver Parr," he explained. "I've had some really nice Zan Parr Bar bred horses in the past, and right now my main stick is a sorrel Zan Parr Joker bred horse. He's about 15.1 hands. I also have a really nice Shining Spark bred horse that I like a lot. He stands about 15.2. That's pretty much the size I like," Strait said. "I've seen some bigger horses that are still very athletic, and wouldn't be opposed to riding one, but that's just my preference."
Ultimately, Strait's love of the sport gave rise to the George Strait Team Roping Classic, which made its debut in Kingsville, Texas in 1983. The idea's gone from milling around to full stampede status. Currently, the event is held each March at the San Antonio Rose Palace, with trucks, trailers, buckles, boots, cash and more up for grabs-well over $300,000 in cash and prizes to be precise.
Its production is a family affair. Wife Norma, brother Buddy, and sister-in-law Denise play major roles in the success of the GSTRC each year, along with countless other family members and friends. And yes, George's passion for the sport spills over into every detail-including steer selection. Much of the time he helps train and cull them himself.
"Each year, approximately 8 to 10 months prior to the roping, Cliff Davis, who works on my ranch, would, with great effort, put together an outstanding set of potentials for me. We would turn them out until about a month before the roping, then we'd start breaking them in. We'd bring in groups of 10 to 15 to the arena, show them the back end a few times, then put the ropes on in the chute and steer stop them about two or three times. Next, we'd go ahead and make some runs on them until we felt like they were ready," he explained. "When we finished with them, we'd get another group in and go through the same process. This is also when we'd cut ones that either didn't match or were too weak. Last year, I turned all of this over to Cliff, and he and Casey Cordell did a great job on their own. They are bringing the steers again this year, and I'm sure they'll be great."
As an added bonus to attendees, Strait mentioned that this year's herd will be auctioned off immediately after the roping."It'll be a good chance to get some freshly broke-in cattle for whoever's interested," he said. 2004 marks the 22nd year of the GSTRC, and Strait is as amazed as anyone.
"It's really hard for me to believe. It's grown a lot since that first one, and we're fortunate to have some really great sponsors. I look for this year's payout to be the biggest ever. My goal is, and always has been, to make this roping the best out there. I'm sure all producers have the same goal, but I won't be satisfied until I know that it is," he said.
But what's the best part of the whole deal? It's not the notoriety, although that's appreciated. It's about giving back to the sport he loves and the ropers he admires.
"The most gratifying thing is presenting the awards to the winners," Strait shared. "The looks on their faces, the excitement and their words of appreciation make all the hard work worth every minute. Also, to hear mention of our roping in unrelated stories by these ropers in publications like Spin To Win is very gratifying," he added.
Another favorite aspect is the cowboy church service that was added to the Saturday morning lineup a few years ago."I'm a Christian, and I think it's a wonderful thing that so many ropers are professing their Christian faith so much more openly these days. We were approached a few years back about having a service at the ropin' and I thought it was a great idea. I'm glad people are attending. I could do better in that area," he admitted. "We all need to remember how truly blessed we all are and the One who continues to bless us."
And now, with the upcoming GSTRC looming less than a month away on March 19-20, if you're gunnin' for the mother lode this year, Strait has some simple words of advice, stemming from hands-on experience."Rope fast."