Since my rookie year in 1980, I’ve been lucky to do what I love—rope—every day. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of so many memorable moments for myself and others. In 40 years, I’ve seen some amazing things and made a lot of great friends. Roping for a living has been a great life. People sometimes ask me about a few of the “best evers” that stand out.
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BEST HEAD HORSE
Some horses are better in certain scenarios than others. I would say the overall best head horse I’ve ever seen is Charles Pogue’s Scooter. When Charles got Scooter, it just catapulted him into being a dominant roper. Scooter scored so good and ran so hard, and the two of them were a force at the ropings and rodeos. Throughout the regular season, Charles basically made the same run every time, thanks to Scooter.
Of course the biggest event of the whole year is the National Finals Rodeo. When the conversation is about best-ever NFR horses, Speedy Williams’ horse Viper was phenomenal at the Thomas & Mack in Vegas. He just fi t that setup to a T. The best horses I ever personally owned and rode at the NFR were Bullwinkle and Barney.
I hate when they try to compare eras in sports, like Michael Jordan and LeBron James. I think that’s impossible, whether you’re talking about basketball or roping. Eras come and go, progress happens and things change. If you had to pick one team, you’d have to say Speed and Rich (Skelton), because they won the most world championships. But before they came along, it was Clay (Cooper) and I in our time. And before us, there were ropers who were pioneers and set the bar in their day, too.
When I was 12 or 13, my dad took me to a roping in a little building down in Isleta, Texas, on New Year’s. Th e wolves of that era—the Camarillos, Rodriguezes, H.P. (Evetts)—were all there. It was the first time I got to see those guys rope, and compete against them. I’ll never forget H.P. roping there on a paint horse. On one run, he let his whole rope go and caught the steer. He didn’t have any rope left to dally with, but it was unforgettable. It got my wheels turning, and I couldn’t wait to get home to work on my reaching.
It’s impossible to compare the dominant ropers in the different eras, because of changing conditions and cattle, and because all sports evolve. If I had to pick a best header today, I might say Kaleb Driggers is the best header out there in 2020, because of what he and Junior (Nogueira) got done the last few years, when they dominated during the regular season. Kaleb is a phenomenal jackpot and rodeo roper.
I also realize it gets interesting for me to say that, when Kaleb hasn’t yet won a world title. But when you talk about all-time great heelers, it’s pretty hard to leave Kory Koontz out of the conversation, and he hasn’t won a gold buckle, either. What the guys who rodeo for a living for a long time realize is that you can have all the talent in the world, and to win it all the cookie has to crumble your way. Look how long it took Cory Petska to win the world, and he could easily not ever have won it. Part of the equation when it comes to winning gold buckles is a roll of the dice, and whether or not things fall your way in Vegas. World championships are a feather in your hat, but there are a lot of really talented ropers who’ve never won the world.
RUNS AND RECORDS
It’s hard for me to pick one best run I’ve made in 40 years, but one of the most memorable was when Clay and I set the 4.3-second NFR record in Round 6 in 1986. We were out of the average when we drew that brindle steer, so I reached. Clay panty-hosed him. Th at record stood a long time.
It’s hard to believe the 59.1-second NFR average record Clay and I set in 1994 is still standing. I bought a bay, strip-faced horse from a guy from New Mexico at the US Finals that year—Sonny—and only took him to a couple jackpots before the NFR. He was green to rodeo runs, but they roped a set of big steers that year, he stayed honest all 10 rounds, and gave Clay a pretty good look at every steer.