Roping for a living is kind of an ebb-and-flow process of peaks and valleys. It’s nice when you get on a roll, and ride that roll. I’ve ridden rolls for a year, when it seemed like roping was easy, and I didn’t even have to think about the process that much. Everything was just working, and I was winning, winning, winning. But that’s not always the case, and sometimes you hit a lull. At the bottom of that valley you have no confidence, because you haven’t been roping up to par.
When you’re down in that low place, nothing comes easy. You’re searching for answers on how to get it all turned around, and as one of two partners on the team, that’s just your side of the equation. There’s the other person, the horses and every other component that’s part of your team, too.
Jake (Barnes) is a great teammate, because he’s a non-stop whip, spur, we’re going to win, no matter what guy. David Key and Matt Tyler were like that, too, when I roped with them. Their optimism pulled me out of low places, because they were always exuding confidence that we were going to win.
From 2009 to 2011, my daughters were graduating from high school, and I felt like I needed to be home. I rodeoed a little regionally around the house, jackpotted and amateur rodeoed quite a bit. But I didn’t try to go to the NFR (National Finals Rodeo). I went to enough rodeos in 2011 to get qualified into the 2012 winter rodeos, and started the 2012 season with the goal of making the Finals.
When I made my comeback in 2012, I was really blessed to start roping with Chad Masters that spring. I have no clue why he roped with me. When we started roping together, I roped terrible. Chad was spinning me steer after steer, but I had my horse messed up and I was failing.
I remember the drive to our first rodeo that Fourth of July run in Pecos, Texas. I was searching in my mind for how I was going to start roping two feet. I borrowed a horse back that I’d owned before, and on the way to Pecos—in the midst of despair and hopelessness—something clicked in my mind. I went back to a strategy and a pattern of what had worked for me years before.
We got to Pecos, and BAM, we placed in both rounds and won second in the average. We went to Prescott (Arizona), placed in both rounds and second in the average. On to Cody (Wyoming), where we placed high in both rounds and won the rodeo. Third at Livingston (Montana). We were on fire, had the best Fourth of July we’d ever had, and it took us from down around 20th to way up in the Top 15 almost overnight. Then we kept riding that wave, and winning about $5,000 every week.
When Chad and I got to Labor Day week that fall, we won Ellensburg and Walla Walla (Washington), and the bonus that went to the team that won the most money at that year’s (ProRodeo) Tour rodeos. In that week, we won over $25,000. Then we went to Omaha (Nebraska) and Kansas City (Missouri), and won $22,000 at those two rodeos. That’s the week I bought LB from Kory Koontz.
We won the NFR average, and Chad won the world. (Clay finished the reserve champ of the world, just $1,131 back of 2012 World Champion Heeler Jade Corkill). What an amazing year, and it all started at the lowest emotional and mental state I could find myself in. There’s always hope, if you’re willing to keep searching it out. It can all turn around in one moment, and if you just keep grinding, you’ll find the answer.
Being in a deep, dark valley, then finding my answer like that has happened half a dozen times in my career. That’s when I ask the one I know has all the answers, and it’s funny how God leads us. Because I’m a Christian, He’s always the first and foremost part of the equation. But he doesn’t give us all the answers at one time. We have to walk it out day by day. We sometimes take wrong roads or get complacent, and we find ourselves in a place we don’t want to be. But if we are faithful and fierce, we can always search our way out and get back on track.