The first year Junior (Nogueira) and I roped together (2014), it was nip and tuck whether or not he was going to make the Finals right there at the end of the regular season. Junior started that year on his permit, and filled it pretty fast. By the time he got his card, we’d won about $10,000 that didn’t count for him in the world standings. So down the backstretch, I basically had it made and Junior was in a bind. Being in the hot seat on the NFR bubble like that was really hard on Junior. And I could relate.
I remember the jet lag I had the first year I rodeoed hard with Allen (Bach), back in 1980. It was a culture shock traveling day and night, and not knowing where we were going, because I’d never been there before. That was poor Junior in 2014, and being from Brazil he was also dealing with the language barrier back then.
Junior and I rodeoed on a shoestring budget that first year we roped together. He rode a $6,000 sorrel heel horse—Gino Fireball, whose true value was probably more like $3,000, and wasn’t even a good practice horse—most of the year. Gino Fireball was about half renegade, and had been passed around and bucked some people off. We took him to try that May at the rodeos in Ramona (California), Las Vegas (Nevada) and Payson (Arizona), and placed at all three. Junior’s not afraid of anything, and that horse was tough. So he bought him cheap, and off we went.
We got good breaks, and won when we had to. But by the end of the year, Junior’s one and only horse was tired and completely played out. That was so much stress on someone who’d never been in that position before. We were right there on the line of him making the Finals, and the wheels started to fall off, because Junior ran out of horsepower.
Jade Corkill was the saving grace that got us to the finish line that year. Junior had spent all his money on old Gino Fireball, then he got hurt. I remember going to Albuquerque (New Mexico) that fall, and we had a steer that ran hard and ran left. Junior was feeling pretty defeated. We were up the next day at Amarillo. Jade had a chestnut horse he called Mud Cat, and he let Junior take that horse from Albuquerque.
Jade’s horse was a big upgrade, and we started placing good again. I had my foot in the door to make the Finals already, but we needed to get Junior over the hump. Jade letting Junior take that horse is what made the difference.
Just like every year, it’s September and that means there are a bunch of guys on the bubble and stressing over trying to make the NFR cut right now. It’s easier said than done not to focus on the finish line. It’s natural to stare at the standings all the time, and lose sleep over what everyone else is doing. But I think it’s best not to do that, because you can’t control what anybody else does.
Focus on what you can do. Try not to let the situation control you. It’s either going to happen, or it’s not. Take it one steer at a time, and focus on scoring, roping, handling the steer and facing to the best of your ability on whatever steer you draw at every rodeo. Set your phone aside every chance you get. Adding extra stress to your life at a time like this sure isn’t going to help.
My motto was always to try and get the Finals made early. If you wait to make your move until the two-minute warning too many times, you run out of Hail Marys sooner or later. Take every rodeo seriously all year long, so you don’t have to look back with regrets. In the end, do everything in your power to minimize the pressure you put on yourself. Because the guy with the least amount of pressure almost always performs better than the guy with the noose around his neck.