There’s no such thing as a perfect partnership, just like there’s no such thing as a perfect marriage. But since we’re on the same team as both our team roping partner and our spouse, why not bring as much to the table as we can? Everybody wins in both scenarios when both people give it their all.
Based on decades of making a living with a team roping partner, I have a list of qualities I look for in a teammate. Since I’m kind of a workhorse-type person, I obviously want to rope with someone who’s putting in the effort, because across all the qualities I’m about to list, staying on the same page on a team is one of the most critical components. If you want to be the best possible partner, keep the fire burning on your work ethic.
Another trait of great partners is that they hold up their end financially. Don’t be that guy who disappears to the bathroom when it’s time to pump and pay for fuel. Always be willing to hold up your end of the deal, from helping pay for the practice steers and hay to continually striving to upgrade your horse herd. Pay your fair share of whatever it takes to keep the partnership alive. It never works out in the long run for people who are always trying to shortchange their partner.
Back to the all-important subject of the horses that power your team, it’s not fair if one partner has multiple good horses and the other doesn’t. Ante up, because your team will only benefit from every possible horse upgrade. For best results on any team, commitment needs to be similar from both partners to keep it fair. Being a cheapskate and always trying to cut corners typically ends in a search for a new partner.
Dividing up team responsibilities is another recipe for team success. For years, Clay (Cooper) did all the entering for our team, and I handled the trading. Both are big burdens, so we felt like it was fair to share them. Along the same lines, I’ve booked a lot of our roping schools over the years, and Clay books our plane tickets, hotel reservations and rental cars. It’s a big deal to rope with someone who’s willing to share the load. It may work for a while when one person does all the work and puts in all the effort, but it usually doesn’t work out in the long run.
The right kind of communication is another big key to being the best possible partner. When things aren’t going well, team ropers are notorious for complaining to their buddies about their partner. Go to your partner instead, and hash things out about how you can do better as a team. Open communication helps prevent a lot of problems, and backstabbing does not fly.
Confidence is everything in roping, so you want and need your partner to have confidence in you. It’s easy to just switch partners when you aren’t winning, and sometimes it gets to the point where that’s the best option. But while you are on the same team, it makes things worse when you have a fit and throw your head back or throw your rope when your partner makes a mistake. Don’t let leaked-out frustrations demoralize and embarrass your partner. That just tanks your team.
The best thing you can do when your partner is struggling is to assure him that you’re there through thick and thin. Let him know you’ll work it out and get through it together. Rube Woolsey told me one time that he ran through the barrier to win the round at the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) when he was heading for Bobby Harris. Rube said Bobby rode out the back of the arena, slapped him on the back and said, “Hey, pard, keep running at that barrier.” Simple gestures like that are important, and Rube said that gave him so much confidence. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. That tends to hurt you more than it helps you.
I haven’t had that many partners over the years, and I’ve had lots of long-term partnerships. Clay has obviously been my best partner. We didn’t always talk all that much, but we’ve always had an unspoken communication and commitment to each other. Our determination, work ethic and goals were the same. And we never knifed each other in the back.