I was fortunate to get to be one of the better ropers in the area where I grew up, and to have the opportunity to win my share. I learned early what it takes to win, and I loved it.
Confidence comes from preparation first. You have to be prepared in order to succeed. When it comes right down to it, you have to get out of the barrier, rope the steer, handle him to give your partner the best possible shot and face. Getting all that done efficiently all goes back to preparation.
I was a fanatic about roping the dummy as a kid. That was my entertainment. We didn’t have Xbox and video games. There wasn’t even a movie theater in Bloomfield, New Mexico. My dad (Raymond) put on ropings. I got to compete at junior rodeos, then high school and amateur rodeos.
I learned to do rope tricks from watching John and Carl Wilken, who were the elite ropers in New Mexico. I didn’t get to see them very often, but in the wintertime they’d have a roping down in Albuquerque once a month on Sundays. My dad took me down there to rope, and some of the guys would gather around and rope a bale of hay with a set of horns stuck in it.
Watching John and Carl rope that dummy was like watching magicians put on a show. We all stood around with our jaws hung. As a kid, I’d jump in there and try to show them some of my stuff. But I wasn’t nearly the caliber they were. I’ve always watched the very best guys and really studied how they do it. I would go home and work for a whole month on stuff I saw them do. I was in awe, and always had a rope in my hand trying to mimic them.
Like all sports, roping is a mental battle and confidence is huge to success. I’ve always had the mindset that total preparation is the best way to give myself an edge. At times, we’ve all had that monkey on our back, where no matter how much we prepare things don’t go our way. Fear and doubt can make us cautious.
You can’t think negatively and be a winner. You have to learn to replace those negative thoughts in your head with positive ones. As team ropers, we’re constantly looking for that best possible partner and horse. Dedication and hard work also factor in to a successful formula. When you’re trying to make a living with your rope, there’s no slack time. It’s tougher today than ever, but I’ve always felt like I could work my way out of a slump.
I always hated the cliché, “You’re trying too hard.” My thinking on that was, “How do I try less?” That never made any sense to me. I don’t see how backing down fixes anything. On the bright side, defeat has made me better. Getting knocked off the throne and being at the bottom has at times in my career elevated me to a whole new level. When I thought I was giving it my all, I had to dig deeper. You might think you’re giving it your all, but there may well be more you can give. Winning isn’t the only key to success. Sometimes you can learn so much from your defeats that it makes you stronger and better on the other side.
There’s another cliché I’m not a fan of, and that’s, “You can’t win ’em all.” You have to show up prepared and trying to win ’em all. Obviously no one can do that. We all fall short. But don’t accept that it’s OK. Tell that voice inside your head that’s telling you all the things that can go wrong to take a hike. Some people are positive by nature. For others, it’s a fight. Control that voice by replacing bad thoughts with good ones.