Breaking Up is Hard to Do with Clay O’Brien Cooper
Clay O'Brien Cooper talks about breaking up with your team roping partner.

Having a partner has always been part of team roping. It takes two to tango, as they say, and the same goes for team roping. If you’re trying to make a living at it, it’s a top priority to make sure you’re teamed up adequately and putting yourself in a position to maximize profits. But even if you’re a recreational roper who ropes primarily for fun, it’s always more fun to win and be successful at anything you do. So roping with the best possible partner at every stage of the game is important to everyone.

Part of the equation at all levels is climbing the ladder to reach the upper echelon of partner opportunities suitable to your skill set. Like every other team roper, I’ve always evaluated my roping, my horsemanship, my horse and my partner. And between how I’ve done it and how it’s been done to me, I think I’ve experienced about every possible scenario when it was time to make a change.

Switching partners is inevitable from time to time. How you break it to your partner is up to you. If you ask the rodeo grapevine, it’ll tell you about some common oldies but goodies when it comes to partner break-up lines. “I’m going to slow down and not go so hard,” “I’m going to retire” or “I’m quitting and going home” are a few that have oftentimes been followed a few weeks later by a change of heart, with the dumper being back out there full time with someone else.

I suppose in a perfect world, people who’ve had it with their partners would just say it: “I don’t like your horse. I don’t like your attitude. I don’t like your wife or girlfriend. You don’t do your share of the driving. You don’t do any of the entering or trading. You’re a jerk and I don’t like you.” In other words, “You’re a deadbeat, I’ve had enough and I’m going to get somebody else.”

Simply stating the truth is typically the best thing to do in life. But most of us have a people-pleasing side to us and don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or ruin somebody’s day. Thus, the sugar-coated lines intended to soften the blow.

Early on in my career, I just bit the bullet and told the person I was ending a partnership with the cold, hard truth without beating around the bush. I’d say, “Hey, listen, starting in two weeks I’m going to be entering with so and so. I’m giving you a heads up, so you have a couple weeks to find a new partner.”

Being that straightforward was not always easy on either side of the equation. So in the later years of my career, I’ve tried to put an up-front notice out there from the very start of every partnership I’m a part of. I have not typically committed to an entire season in recent times, but rather talked in terms like, “Let’s rope through the winter, then re-evaluate come spring based on how it goes. If for any reason our team isn’t delivering up to our expectations, we’ll do something different.” That way, my partner knows exactly what I’m thinking before we even take the first step.

Sometimes you just never know. I wasn’t doing very good in the first part of 2012 when I was roping with Chad Masters. I told him half a dozen times over a couple of months, “Hey, I’m not doing you a very good job, you might need to get somebody else.” Ironically, he stayed hooked with me and from the Fourth of July through the last steer at the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) I caught fire, we had a fantastic year and he won the world. Bam, it all just turned around.

To me, this is a tough subject. You become friends, and there are feelings, pride and compassion involved. At the same time, I want the guy I’m roping with to know that I’m okay with whatever he wants to do. If you can get somebody better, I’m for you, not against you. I’ve said that up front to the last three guys—Chad, Derrick (Begay) and Jake (Barnes)—I’ve roped with.

I guess my best advice here is to set a short-term goal as a team, then work hard together to achieve it. Prevent problems by continuing to communicate as honestly and openly as you can. Then re-evaluate and regroup as needed. 

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