A lot of young ropers ask me about how to get started going down the road. They have their dreams and aspirations of rodeoing for a living, and ask about any advice I might have for people who are looking to rodeo full time. Most of us whove been rodeoing for a long time got started at local jackpots, then went to amateur rodeos somewhat locally. I grew up in California, so I mainly stayed in California. We went to Arizona a couple times a year, and went to Las Vegas a little bit. As my confidence grew and I met people in other areas, I started venturing out. When I was 15, (NFR heeler) Shawn Howell was my buddy. He was a year older than me and had a drivers license. We went to a few junior rodeos, some amateur rodeos and lots of jackpots in California. The first time I left for the summer was when I got my drivers license.
When I was 16 and got my truck, Shawn and I spent the summer in Arizona and New Mexico. We went back home to California for school that fall. The summer I was 17, I went back to New Mexico. I met Marty Petska (Paul and Monty Joes brother) at a roping in Silver City, and he invited me for the summer. So I went and stayed with Marty and his wife, Lisa. Monty was still living at home with his folks on the same place. Bret Beach, George Aros and I went to South Texas later that summer. It was a big adventure back then. All we wanted to do was rope, but we still needed confidence and to win money to support ourselves. Thats how we got started out on the road, just meeting folks along the way. It was the start of my career and life on the road, and it was all about learning how to rope for a living.
After a couple years of being out on the road, I learned a lot and gained confidence from competing more and watching the good guys rope. I started going to the big average ropings, like the Oakdale 10-Steer and Chowchilla Stampede. That’s when I first roped against the big dogs; guys like Leo Camarillo, Walt Woodard, Rickey Green, Denny Watkins, Matt Silveira and Allen Bach. Jackpotting gave us younger guys the confidence to step on up when it was time to get our PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) cards. Those ropings are where we learned we could hang with those guys. But it was a process that took several years.
Nowadays it’s a little bit different, but not altogether different when your goal is to ultimately try to go the ProRodeo route. Some kids have the confidence to just jump in and start going to the rodeos. For others it takes awhile. Some young ropers have the backing to just do it. They have the luxury to learn while they’re out there, because they can afford to lose the money. Other kids have to be a little more strategic so they can hold their money together. They have to rodeo locally longer, while they’re getting it all together, including the right partners and horses.
Most ropers start out in the winter and see how it goes. If they win early, they can stay out there. If not, they have to go back home and rodeo locally. In these economic times, that’s the smart thing to do, because it costs a lot to be out there. If you’re trying to be smart with your money, that’s the way to go.
I’ve always said that if you can’t beat them at the little jackpots and amateur rodeos around the house you sure don’t have any business being out there on the full-time rodeo trail. Some people have the money to stay out there, and it doesn’t matter if they win or not. I never was afforded that luxury. I had to win. But it takes all kinds, and if you can afford it and you enjoy it, great.
Rodeo’s kind of a cool lifestyle. You get to see a lot of different parts of the country, and competing is always fun. It’s a lifestyle like no other, because it is so unique. Different people do it for different reasons.
The advice I give guys when I’m asked what it takes to make a living roping at the professional level is that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. You have to be strong willed and strong minded, because it’s not for the weak of mind or talent. It’s a tough road. It’s fun, and there are a lot of good people out there. It’s a good place to be if you can hang.