Every generation of ropers learns from the last one. That’s how our sport continues to evolve and advance. When the era of dally team roping started, they didn’t use rubber on the saddle horn. The old timers used cotton. It was a different, earlier style of roping back then. But there were great ropers who were serious about it and really good at it. The recent passing of Leo Camarillo—one of the greatest team roping icons of all time, and a hero of mine from the generation of ropers before me—brings back a flood of great old memories.

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, my stepdad (Gene O’Brien) would sit around with his buddies and they would all tell stories about roping, ranching, hunting—you name it—in their era and the one before them. I would sit there and soak it all in, and it helped me understand and appreciate the evolution of dally team roping in California, and also the fact that there were a lot of talented tie-on ropers from that era of team tying in Arizona.

Mastering Fundamentals with Clay O'Brien Cooper 

If you fast forward to team roping today, it’s all built on the foundation of knowledge, horses, horsemanship, trial and error—the whole evolution that’s gone into our game the last 50-60 years from guys like Leo and a lot of good cowboys who came before him. Watching the best guys, and listening to stories about people who were the old timers when I was a kid is what started my dreams and sparked the idea that I could be out on the road traveling, competing and roping for a living.

Hearing those old stories about the allure of the rodeo lifestyle captured me and drew me in. Then, when I started getting big enough to compete against the best guys out there, I was roping against people like the Camarillos and the rest of the heroes and kingpins in those stories I’d been hearing. Everyone talks about how tough team roping is today, and it is. But the big ropings when I was a kid were great ropings. And the ropers competing at them were very talented and competitive. Times were slower, but the cattle were bigger and stronger, and the scores were longer.

One of the best things I saw when I was about 12 was the Roers Ropathon in Arizona, which was a 10-header. I got to see guys like Dale Smith, Art Arnold and Joe Glenn, and you could tie-on. All the good ropers from California were there, too. Art Arnold and Joe Glenn won the 10-header, and they were in their 50s at the time. I was just a kid roping in the open roping with my stepdad, and that brought it full circle for me. I’ll always be grateful to those guys who came before me. They gave me my dreams.

Enjoying & Appreciating the Roping Ride with Clay O'Brien Cooper

Our era paved the way for the guys who’ve come behind us. After Jake (Barnes) and I had our day, Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton) had their time. Then came guys like Jade Corkill and Junior Nogueira. And so it goes. Progress never stops. And it’s built on the backs of those who came before us.

I’ve heard stories of how cowboys caught a train with their horses to go to Madison Square Garden back in the day. How cool was that? All sports evolve, and rodeo is no exception. When I came in (to professional rodeo), rodeo was crazy. There were 600 sanctioned rodeos, and we tried to get to every one of them. We went 100 miles an hour in planes, trains and automobiles. In the beginning, Bret (Beach) and I buddied with Jake and Allen (Bach), and we chartered a plane that we were going in all the time, and sent rigs here, there and everywhere.

The Score: Season 3, Episode 8 with Clay O'Brien Cooper

Team ropers today can count 65 rodeos a year max. The entire business model has changed. But the same dream is still there for this next generation of cowboys. We flew around to jackpots and rodeos non-stop, and went to 125 rodeos a year. It was hard. But the fun outweighed the hardship. And if I had the chance to do it all over again, I would go right back in a heartbeat. 

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