Money Maker

Cashing in on the Team Roping Boom
Making money with a rope isn't for the faint of heart, but for those with dedication and some talent, it's more possible than ever to make roping pay.
A young Allen Bach and Jake Barnes standing with brothers George and Buddy Strait
A young Allen Bach and Jake Barnes are celebrated by brothers George and Buddy Strait for winning the George Strait Team Roping Classic. | TRJ file photo

Can you make a living team roping?

Back when I started roping, there were no thoughts of making a living roping. Team roping was more of a hobby even for a lot of the best guys, because they didn’t even have our event at a lot of rodeos. Where I grew up in New Mexico, nobody roped for a living. There were guys who loved to rope, but it wasn’t how they fed their families. Today’s young guns won’t believe it, but when my career got rolling, they didn’t even have team roping at rodeos like Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston, Cheyenne and Pendleton. 

Making money with a rope was so tough when I was younger that for a good part of my own career, I hesitated to encourage young kids to put all their eggs in that basket. But even in the short time since my kids were little, a lot has changed. There’s just so much more money out there to win.  

One thing that’s been true about team roping all along is that there are young kids who invest a lot of time to become talented ropers, then waste that by becoming bums who don’t take care of business. The fact is, with team roping at every rodeo now and all the progress in this booming roping and rodeo business, it is absolutely possible to make a living roping if you’re willing to work hard for it and do whatever it takes. 

Team roping has absolutely exploded, and from the days when I was young and open ropings were the only game in town, there’s so much opportunity for lower-numbered ropers now also. The (Ariat) World Series of Team Roping Finale in Las Vegas is the best gig there is, and recreational ropers have a chance to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in one day with a minimum investment of time and money. I’ve roped all my life, and have never won $150,000 at one event. 

Team roping has come so far that you can compete close to home, enjoy the sport as a part-time hobby at your local ropings, and practice after work if that’s how you want to do it. You can ease around as a family at your own pace, then get dialed in and go for it at the Finale for a shot at a ton of money. Times have changed so much since I was a kid, and it was sink-or-swim at the open ropings, because there were no other options. 

Team ropers today can enjoy all the different stages competing against teams of their own caliber. When I was learning to rope, I was basically donating to the livings of the best guys while I worked my way up the ladder. Most of the ropings were three for $30—$15 a man—and I think they took $10 a team out for stock charge. The other $20 was split between the first round and the average. 

It’s hard for me to even comprehend the difference between then and now, but when I was a kid a team roping horse cost $2,500 to $5,000 at the high end. I realize it’s all relative when it comes to costs and payoffs, but even the local ropings pay pretty well today. And there’s that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in Vegas each December. 

If I had a kid today who truly loved to rope, I would assure him that roping for a living is not fun and games or easy. I’d make it clear that it’s no bed of roses, and there can be no excuses. But if the kids are eaten up with it like I was, and are all in, it is more possible than ever before to make roping pay. 

Stage-appropriate horses are important. A lot of kids are over- or under-mounted, and both can be bad. If a horse is too strong and overpowers a beginner, it can be intimidating and even dangerous. Being under-mounted on a slow horse that can’t catch up or is really cheaty can be very frustrating. 

A gentle, honest, automatic horse, and starting out roping machines and slow cattle is a good basic place to start for all beginners. As an interesting side note, having a Cadillac at every stage might not be the best bet in the long run. A few pickles and less talented horses along the way sure taught me a thing or two. Keep it safe and keep it fun.


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