If I had it all to do again as a young team roper—knowing what I know now, and with all I’ve learned over the course of my life and career—how would I go about building the most successful possible roping career for myself? I get asked that question quite a bit, and laugh when I look back. I was like a blind squirrel looking for an acorn when I was a kid dreaming of roping for a living.
There weren’t a lot of top ropers where I grew up. I was infatuated with roping, and would compare my mindset to a minority kid looking for a way out of the ghetto. I watched the good guys, and studied how they were doing it.
My first piece of advice for young people with big roping dreams—and their parents—is to seek good advice. My son Bo was infatuated with basketball like I was with roping. Toni [Jake’s wife] took him to a Phoenix Suns camp taught by Eddie Johnson, who was a former Suns player. He got into the tiny details of basketball with Bo.
From then on, I zipped it. I’d played basketball, but not at the level Bo was looking to go. Compared to someone who’d played that sport at the highest level, I realized I had no idea what I was talking about. Bo learned from the best, and worked his tail off. His reward was playing Division 1 ball, and being recruited overseas.
The same scenario applies to roping parents. Some are qualified to coach their kids at roping—others, not so much. If it was my kid, I’d take him to the very best trainers to get him started on the right track. From there, the effort they put into it will tell the story.
Patrick Smith and Paul Eaves are great examples of what I’m talking about here. They went and lived with Allen Bach. They learned about roping, and what it takes to make it from him. You have to earn the help one way or another, whether it’s to pay for advice or to work it off doing things like cleaning stalls, driving and exercising horses. But what you learn can be priceless, and figuring it all out on your own takes too much time.
READ MORE: Never Forget Where You Came From
Parents also have an impact on your personal habits, and who you hang out with. If you want to rope for a living, drinking and drugs are not your friend. You can take my word for it or learn it the hard way. Sometimes the tough lessons learned in life do you a favor over the long run, and prepare you for tougher times ahead. Just remember that mismanagement has derailed a lot of talented team ropers.
Allen was my first partner when I turned pro, and was a good mentor to me during the time I spent at his place in California. When I then roped with Leo (Camarillo) and stayed there with him (also in California) was the real turning point for me. Before that, I looked at practice as fun. Leo took me from just going through the motions to breaking down every detail of being better. I became a professional team roper when I lived with Leo.
Conducting yourself as a professional is another area where good parenting comes in handy. It’s easy to get a bad attitude when things don’t go right, and start throwing fits and taking it out on your horse. I’ve heard Trevor (Brazile) say he didn’t grow up throwing fits, because his parents didn’t stand for it.
READ MORE: What’s Your Reason for Roping?
You’re going to lose more than you win. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to learn how to keep rolling when you do. And even more important than not letting failure wreck your next run is not letting it make you miserable in your life. What happens in five seconds can’t put you in a bad mood for five days.
I expect so much out of my horses and me that it’s a huge letdown when I don’t win. I’m hard on myself. Bobby Hurley had the ability to miss in a crucial situation, and ride out of the arena laughing. I have no idea how he did that, but thought his and Allen’s rule of allowing themselves to be mad for one hour max was a great idea. You didn’t miss on purpose, so get over it and get on to the next one. TRJ