It’s every roper’s aspiration and ultimate goal to make a living roping. For many years I thought that was the greatest life you could ever imagine-being a professional team roper and making a living roping. What I’ve learned is that sometimes you have to wonder what you wish for. There are two sides to the coin, especially later on in your career, when the miles get longer and you have a family. It’s not quite as glamorous is it seemed in your 20s, 30s and early 40s. This isn’t for everybody. It’s been good to me, and I wouldn’t change it. But it’s a long road. It looks like Hollywood from the outside, but it’s a tough industry.
As a kid growing up, I had huge dreams of making the National Finals and winning world championships. It starts out as a dream, and then reality starts to set in when you work hard enough to be competitive and have some success. There are certain basic fundamentals that have to happen in team roping. No. 1, you have to be confident in your roping. There’s a difference between being confident and cocky. You need to be a confident person with high self-esteem, and have confidence in your roping.
You get confident in your roping by being prepared to execute your game plan, regardless of the setup and if it’s a one-header or an average. There are all different types of roping, and you need to be fundamentally sound at all of it. One of the things that puts people on the right track to succeed is coming across the right type of horse. When you’re first starting out you need one that stays with a pattern so the novice roper can concentrate on his roping. Novice ropers don’t have the horsemanship skills to operate a green horse
You also have to get some breaks, including at times making your own luck. Some ropers seem to get all kinds of breaks, whether it’s the draw, getting good partners, or catching one critical high-team steer that jumpstarts their confidence. For whatever reason, some people seem to get those breaks and others don’t. Then you start creeping into the psychological aspect of it. You have to keep it all in perspective, because if you stay consistent and don’t let the negative stuff get you down, things will turn around if you stay persistent and have the fundamentals it takes to execute.
It doesn’t matter what level roper you are, everyone goes through the mind games. I’m no different. I’ve had a cruddy summer and haven’t really gotten the breaks. Clay and I haven’t gotten up very well and haven’t gotten the good end of the draws. You start to wonder if you’re going to make the Finals, and that creates pressure on you, which makes it harder to perform at a high level. Everyone goes through it, and it’s just part of it.
It’s usually not just an accident that you aren’t doing well. There are all kinds of challenges when you’re a professional roper, from the luck of the draw to your horse and how you handle your business. When you’re getting your tail kicked out here it’s easy to sit around and say “poor me.” What I’ve been doing for 28 years when I get down is working to rebuild and get back up there. It makes the good times that much more special when you do whatever it takes to get there. I don’t think you can ever try too hard.
This is a great sport. And it’s a humbling experience. No matter how good you are you can be chopped down the next day by a little wrinkle, like losing that good horse or your partner. One thing happens, and you’re back to the drawing board. It takes the guts and determination that you’re going to make it no matter what it takes; that this is your destiny. It all starts off with a dream. Then it takes hard work and drive. You have to be able to survive the emotional roller coaster of small highs and lots of lows. It goes back to the fundamentals of roping and life, and you have to balance both. You have to have a good head on your shoulders to stay away from all the temptations and distractions. You need someone to hold your hand and show you how to enter and get from place to place when you’re first starting out. There are so many people across the country who’ve let us layover and run a few practice steers at their place over the years. Sometimes it’s a home-cooked meal. I always suggest that younger guys with aspirations get with one of the veterans who’s willing to help and guide them in the early going. That experience can really be an asset in helping get you started on the right track.