Clay O’Brien Cooper: Can One Twist Turn It All Around?
Clay O'Brien Cooper on turning things around in your roping and life.

Can one thought, run or decision change everything and totally turn things around? Based on my life and career, I say yes. I’ve always loved football, and there’s a famous example from the San Francisco 49ers of my point. The Niners could never seem to get past the (Dallas) Cowboys in the championship game to go to the Super Bowl. But a late-game play—in which Dwight Clark caught a heroic pass from Joe Montana—turned everything around and the 49ers went on from what made headlines as “The Catch” to become a legendary football dynasty.

There’s an old saying that, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” that runs along the same lines of what I’m saying here. If you’re working hard toward a goal and you’re doing all you can to lay the foundation of preparation and hard work in trying to position yourself for that level of opportunity, one pivotal thought really can change everything and propel you into achieving your goal.

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I’ve had more than a few of those types of moments turn everything around for me over time. The most recent happened several years ago now, about the time my kids were graduating from high school. I needed to stay home—and I did—but in the back of my mind, I was thinking I could possibly make a comeback. When my girls were grown and gone, I started toward that goal. There were some things that had to happen for it to work, including having the horse I needed. I needed to recapture my confidence. Even though I had worked very hard to get physically prepared to rope at the highest level again, there were also some mental hurdles to overcome.

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When I was roping with Chad Masters in 2012, I hadn’t roped very well in the weeks before the Fourth of July run. On the all-night drive to the rodeo in Pecos, Texas, I had a thought about my swing that took me back about 25 years. When that thought crossed my mind, the light bulb went on. Pecos was our first rodeo of Cowboy Christmas, so there was no time to practice what I was thinking about. So I put that one thought straight into action. I had the best Fourth of July I’d ever had in my whole career, followed by a great summer, a great fall and a great (National) Finals (Rodeo). That one thought about my swing propelled me from a low point and kick-started me into a long run of prosperity.

Fast forward to 2015, when I was roping with Derrick Begay and one run changed everything. I was trying to change something about my roping when we got to San Antonio. We didn’t do any good in the first round, then Derrick turned me one to win the day money in the second round and I missed him. I was so upset and frustrated, because months of hard work wasn’t paying off and yielding any fruit. Then we won the third round in our set, and that one run advanced us. We worked our way through the semifinals, and ended up winning second at the rodeo. That one run—our third one at that rodeo—turned it all around for us. We won about $40,000 that winter, and that was the best winter I ever had.

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It’s really important that you keep grinding and stay hooked, because sometimes when you’re in your darkest moment, you have to just pin your ears and grit your teeth. That next thought or run really might turn it all around. The same can be said about a single decision. One case in point was when I bought my bay horse LB from Kory Koontz. I wasn’t convinced that I’d made a good decision. But I went with my gut, and that decision turned out to be a huge blessing. LB ended up being one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden. He was the difference maker when I needed one. When people ask me if one twist can turn it all around, I have a quick and simple answer: Absolutely.

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