When I was 13-14 years old, my dad took me to a big open roping down in Ysleta, Texas. It was right after Christmas around New Year’s, and I had no idea what I was getting into. When we got down there to that roping, all the big dogs—including Leo, Jerold and Reg Camarillo, and H.P. Evetts—were there on their way to the rodeo in Odessa. I was just a kid, and my eyes were opened to a whole new world there at that roping that day when it comes to reaching.
I’d been exposed to world-class roping, because my Uncle Billy Barnes was from California, and that was the team roping hub back in the day, with the big ropings in Oakdale and Chowchilla and so many of the best cowboys living there then. I was totally in awe and intrigued by the Camarillo wolfpack at that 400-team roping. The Camarillos were like the second coming of Christ to a kid from New Mexico with big roping dreams.
I somehow won something at that roping that day. But the main moral of the story when it comes to my memories of that day was getting to watch the wolves work. I’d never seen anyone reach before, and watching H.P. was the craziest thing I’d ever seen. He reached so far on one steer that he stuck it on him, but didn’t even have enough rope left to get his slack.
When I was growing up in Northern New Mexico, two straight-up runs and a leg always won something. If you roped three steers in a row, you were the winner. We didn’t know anything about reaching, so what I saw at that roping was a whole new dimension. H.P. was riding a paint horse, and he just came across there and reached a mile.
I went back home after that roping thinking, “This is how the big boys do it.” I started standing way back and reaching on the dummy. I’d go to the jackpots and reach as far as I could. When it came to reaching, I sort of had a knack for it.
Naturally, the reaching made my horses get quick and duck. But when I started amateur rodeoing, being able to reach gave me an edge. I moved to South Texas, and reaching became a big part of my style. After watching Charles Pogue stick it on steers, get ’em on a short rope and handle them, I did reform my roping so I could be a more complete roper.
Reaching is situational. Like the Kenny Rogers song says, “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.” If you’re a low-numbered roper, I’d strongly suggest you run to the hip, stick to the fundamentals and focus on roping and handling every steer. Reaching probably does not belong in your bag of tricks.
If you’re a rodeo roper, on the other hand, if you’re not a reacher in today’s world, you’re not going to be competitive at all. Roping is insane now, and they’re swinging when they’re nodding and cutting it loose when they hit the scoreline. But rodeo ropers also can’t be one-dimensional. There’s a time and a place for everything, and bombers who can’t catch when that’s what’s called for can’t make it today, either. I’ve always wanted to be able to do it all, because that’s what it takes to make it big.
The first great reacher I ever saw was H.P. Doyle Gellerman could really reach, too, and they called Ty Blasingame “The Blaster” because he was a notorious reacher. Speedy (Williams) was a really good reacher, and was also so good at handling steers when he reached.
The world’s full of reachers now. There isn’t enough ink to name them all, but the king of reaching today is Dustin Egusquiza. He makes reaching look like a lay-up. (Kaleb) Driggers and Lightning Aguilera are crazy good at it, too.
Like every sport, roping keeps evolving. Today’s ropers are phenomenal, and the standouts would excel in any era. But it really is impossible to compare eras. In our day, they bulldogged steers one year and team roped them the next. They were huge, with sets of horns as wide as the front of a truck. I’m not trying to be that “back when they bucked guy,” but it really was different.
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