Clay O'Brien Cooper: Changing Partners


It may be due to a number change, geographic relocation, or trying to upgrade to give yourself the best possible chance of winning. But the bottom line is it’s inevitable that you’ll be changing partners at some point in your roping career. This is always a touchy subject, but because it’s team roping—and in our event it takes two to tango—it’s just part of it.

Regardless of how far you go in climbing the roping ladder, we all start out jackpotting, and do that to some degree throughout our careers. That means multiple partners. When you rodeo professionally, your commitment is to one partner. There are again several factors to consider, including how the team performs together, and your compatibility, if you travel together.

It’s never been easy to make a change, but as I got older it became more important to me to be up front with the guys I rope with. It’s not just about you, it’s about that other guy and his family, too. Being open, and giving him a heads up that gives him plenty of time to make a new game plan is just the right thing to do. Both partners should have some input on how it’s going to go.

When I was younger, my brain kind of only thought about me. When you have a wife, kids, and a place to pay for, that pressure can make you switch partners pretty quickly. A guy’s got to do what a guy’s got to do to survive.

I try to segment the partnership, to keep an open door for both of us up front. Let’s rope through the winter, or spring, or summer, and see how we do, for example. Each season gives you a certain amount of rodeos to try and do good together. This is how I go at it as far as rodeoing goes, and it applies to recreational ropers who jackpot also. You don’t have to lock yourselves into a long-term commitment right off the bat.

In 2012, when I roped with Chad Masters, we had an awesome summer, and he won the world championship. The whole time I was telling him that if he could find a better situation, he should go do it. Same thing in my recent partnership with Derrick Begay. The whole time we roped, I told him that if he could find a better partner who wanted to go harder, he should do it.

I mostly travel alone. Some guys like to travel together and split expenses. There have been times I didn’t have the best horse. I like to go to about 50 rodeos a year instead of 75. So I realize there’s stuff people have to put up with to be my partner, and if those things make us not a very good fit, that’s fine. I like all my partners. They’re my friends. That’s why I like to keep everything above the table and talk about it.

I told Spank (Spencer Mitchell) before we started roping this spring that I wanted to come home at times. He agreed to that. We also agreed to re-evaluate after Cheyenne in July. That’s a pretty standard time to make a decision on your chances for making the Finals. When we went into our partnership, I had about $10,000 less won than Spencer, who roped with Jason Duby earlier this year.

Spencer started roping with Russell Cardoza the middle of August, and I headed home for a couple weeks. They were at about the same spot in the standings when they started, so it made sense. They both still had a shot, and had about the same number of rodeos left. There was no sense in me staying out there, so I just went to a few rodeos in the Northwest, like Ellensburg and Walla Walla, and called it good.

There was no pot at the end of my rainbow this year as far as making the Finals went. I wanted Spank to do good and make the Finals, so he needed to go on. Team roping is about a team, and if you go at it with honesty and integrity, it’s all good. I’m still good friends with all the guys I’ve roped with over the years—Jake (Barnes), Derrick, Chad, Speed (Williams), Tee (Woolman). Things change. But it doesn’t have to be a bad deal when it does. 

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