Young Guns with JD Yates

JD Yates qualified for his first NFR when he was just 15 years old, and he discusses the approach he took with his son, Trey.

Originally published in Spin to Win in 2013

The Basics: Catching is Crucial

It all reverts back to good position—whether you’re heading or heeling. I tried to teach Trey (Yates) to learn to catch, not to rope fast. If he learns to catch a high percentage, he can take that and speed that up once he learns the basics. Regardless of how good you rope, I’d rather catch five in a row and be a little bit closer than be fast and run the risk of missing. You have to get in the right position to catch to give yourself the best opportunity to catch.

Riding Right: Horsemanship

There are a lot of people in the world who rope better than I do. My only way to level the playing field was my horsemanship and riding a good horse. There are a lot of young kids who need to work on their horsemanship as much or more than they do on their roping. Horsemanship will keep you competitive no matter what you’re roping ability is.

Keeping Your Head Up: Navigating the Numbers

To me, the hardest part is the competition. They can win once and lose 20 times so that can be hard on their morale. When I was a kid, it didn’t matter who was at the roping, everybody competed against each other. I always competed against someone better than me. With the number ropings, you go up and down depending on his number. They have to learn that when they get bumped, they have to get better and deal with the pressure of roping with better partners. You have to go and compete and miss some steers for a lot of money to know the feeling. You need to learn how to lose so you know what winning is all about and how to handle it all with dignity.

Whose Idea is it, Anyway?

When I was a kid, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to rope every day. But my son, Trey, wasn’t real interested in roping until he was 12 or 13 years old. He liked to play basketball and wrestle, but my message was always to put your heart and soul into it and be as good as you can be. I remember a lot of days I wished Trey was roping with me, but I never forced him to rope. It just took him a little longer to find out that’s what he wants. Now, he’s out here with me all the time.

Outside the Arena

I’m big on education for these kids. Trey got his permit when he turned 18 and we went to see rodeos and filled his permit. He would like to keep rodeoing, but he’s going to college. He leaves for college and is going to go to Wyoming and further is education.

You never know what could happen. He could be running straight down the arena and the horse could hit a rock and go end over end and he’s done roping. I think college rodeoing is a very important step in their life and going forward in their careers. I highly recommend these kids go on to college and get their education. It helps further their education with a rope and with life experiences.

I went three years to college and I had already been to the Finals a few times, I decided I was done going to college and I was going to be a rodeo star. So I went to California for the spring rodeos and came home flat broke. So I enrolled back in summer school and quit trying to be a rodeo star. I got enough credits, was able to rodeo my last year in college and finish my degree. I don’t think it held me back from anything I wanted to do. It taught me a lesson that I should have listened to my dad and stayed in school instead of trying to be a rodeo star.

You might not think you’ll ever use your education, but whether you realize it or not, you’ll be using your education every day of your life.

J.D. Yates is one of the youngest cowboys to ever qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, when he heeled for his father, Dick, there at the age of 15. Since then, he’s qualified for the NFR 21 times, won 33 AQHA World Championships, won the Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic and made $1.3 million in winnings.

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