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Details make a big difference as we climb the roping ladder. The little things that matter aren’t always the fun parts of roping. But if you want to be successful with your roping, win more than you spend and balance your checkbook, you’ll realize some of the smallest things are important and vital to constant improvement. Spending a ton of time in the practice pen keeping your horse working is one of countless examples. Bottom line is if you don’t drill down on these important details, you’re toast.

Because our horses are half the battle in team roping, so many of the most important details have to do with our equine partners. Until I started rodeoing, I didn’t realize how important my horse was. When you’re jackpotting, you have a little time to get from Point A to Point B, then you still have a jump or two to self-correct. You don’t have that luxury when you’re rodeoing. You have to be at the right place right now. If your horse doesn’t allow you to do that, you’re facing an uphill battle.

Learn from Clay O'Brien Cooper on Roping.com

When you’re trying to be as fast as you have to be to win at the highest level these days, you’re beyond just having to battle the conditions and the steer you draw. If your horse is doing something wrong—scoring poorly, not leaving the box right, out of control or not responding to the bridle when he hits the corner, cheating you, stopping on his front end, cutting the corner or whatever—you realize fast that one step out of place can mess up your whole run.

It comes down to analyzing what’s going on—how your horse is working, and how you’re able to set up the run (whether you’re heading or heeling)—then doing the dirty work that might not be fun to fix those spots. In the practice pen on slow cattle, so you can isolate those little problem areas, is the place to do it. That may mean you don’t get to make a real run for a week on that particular horse, because you need to isolate and fix that spot before you can go on. But it must be done.

Years ago, when I was getting started, I was as guilty as anyone of not doing what I’m suggesting here. I just wanted to make a ton of runs, and sometimes tried to cheat my horses into giving me the throw I wanted. The consequence of that was not bettering my horses or myself. I did get the benefit of making lots of practice runs, but I went through a lot of horses and a lot of money paying the price.

Clay O'Brien Cooper: Don't Overthink Things

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, when I was really honing my skills through repetition, you could buy a practice horse for $2,500-$3,500, and a pretty good horse to enter on for $5,000-$7,500. I bought my first great horse that I won my first three championships on, Blue, for $6,200, and that was all the money I could scrape together. It was just a different time.

Nowadays, our sport has gone kind of crazy. Just a prospect to go train yourself costs $15,000 at minimum, and a mediocre jackpot horse is $25,000-$30,000. It’s a whole different day and time, and horses are expensive. So we have to be even smarter about preparing our horses to work the way we want them to.

I have a couple of young horses, including one that’s getting solid (Trooper is Clay’s 7-year-old bay). I threw him to the wolves and took him to the BFI and Reno Rodeo in June. He came through it without coming undone, but I’ve spent three years working on his foundation. He knows how to go make the runs now, but to fix a little spot here or there, I give up the kinds of practice runs that would have been fun for me. You have to. If you just go cheat your way through runs all the time, you never really fix the places that need to be good from the back of the box to when you get your dally and stop the steer.

Champ's Next Great One

To have a horse that’s good start to finish is amazing. I’ve only had a few of them in my career, and it was awesome. Some people are lucky if they have one like that in a lifetime. But to have that, you must be willing to address the little details.

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