the age of wisdom

The Best of Times for Team Ropers
"The time has come when the sky’s the limit for people who basically rope as a hobby."
Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper roping at the National Finals Rodeo
Jake and Clay doing NFR battle at the Thomas & Mack in Vegas. | PRCA ProRodeo photo

We all love to rope, and it’s the greatest time ever to be a team roper. As always, recreational ropers—as in, people who rope for fun—make up the majority of team ropers in the world. Guys who rope for a living are gunning at more money than ever before. But with the grueling travel and how tough it is to win out there today, the rodeo road remains a hard life. What’s pretty cool now is that the time has come when the sky’s the limit for people who basically rope as a hobby. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just roping for fun. 

I personally feel that a lower-numbered roper has a way better opportunity and a better lifestyle than the open-roping pro cowboys. All those guys are out there chasing the NFR, and only 15 teams have a chance to run at the big money those 10 days in Vegas. The recreational ropers run at over $100,000 a man every day out there at the (Ariat) World Series (of Team Roping) Finale

READ: Calling All Roping Rookies: Friendly Advice from Jake Barnes

My mind continues to be blown by the young kids coming up today. I just went to a roping in Wickenburg, and watched a $300-a-man #12 roping, which has no age limit. This one little kid comes out and reaches as far as he could on the first steer, his partner crossfired him and they were 5—again, in the first round of a four-steer average. I was like, “Are you kidding me?”

I hustled over to the other arena to see what they were going to do on their second steer, and that same kid reached as far as he could again, and missed. There I was, old-school me, thinking, “OK, I’m not crazy, that’s not the way we go at a four-header.” But that kid stuck with his gunslinging game plan, and sure enough, here he came in the short round. He threw his whole rope again, and won second or third in the average. It was insane. 

Maybe I had no fear when I was his age, but it was a different ball game back then, and was more about consistency and avoiding unforced errors. A kid like that surely has big dreams of roping at the NFR one day. So the good news for the rest of the ropers in that #12 roping is that he’ll soon have his number raised, and you won’t have to deal with him much longer. 

READ: There is No Single Path to Success in Team Roping or Life

We never think there will be a generation gap, but I find myself thinking about how much money $300 is for entry fees. And that was going one time in one roping. Then here came the #12 businessman’s roping, and the fees were $1,000 a man. On a weekday. That kind of money is still hard for me to cough up to rope, but it says something worth noting. Businessmen and women make their money doing something else, and rope for enjoyment. They can afford it. Good for them.

I was raised to never waste anything. Even though I have a rope sponsorship, I still use a rope until it can’t go anymore. Then my sister makes baskets out of the really old, worn-out ones. It’s mind-blowing to see a 12-year-old kid use a rope once, then throw it on the ground and walk away. To each his own, but I’d have gotten my butt whipped. 

I started at the bottom, and worked my way to the top. Some would say roping was my job. But it never felt like a job, because that’s all I ever wanted to do. I’m very thankful for all the doors my roping career opened, including the chance for Clay (Cooper) and I to spend our rodeo retirement helping others reach their roping goals.  

READ: Intermediate, Limited and Numbered Futurities are Next Gen of Team Roping

Ropers of our generation who are over 60 now find ourselves in an interesting position, where we still rope too good to get our numbers lowered, but have a tough time against guys half our age or younger. Luckily, Clay and I love helping other people with their roping. And the horse industry continues to be more lucrative as more and more people rope. 

I guess what I’m saying here is that roping has something for everyone in 2024. There’s a place for all of us, and if you consider roping play, that’s cool, too. The numbering system provides protection for people who don’t rope for a living, and that’s a totally different scenario from when we were the young kids and were thrown to the open-roper wolves.


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