Clay and I were gung ho about roping together again this year. You always have great expectations heading into a new season, and we were excited about it. But there are times over the course of a long career that you have to change your course. If things don’t work out, you have to have a Plan B.
For whatever reason—if your horses aren’t working or you go through a stretch where you just can’t draw a steer that’ll let you win anything—the bottom line is you have to make a living. If you aren’t winning, you have a family and this is your source of income, you can’t continue to go out there. Sometimes in the middle of the stream you have to change things up, go back to the drawing board, get a new horse, teach more roping schools or whatever it is you need to do to make things work.
You need to re-evaluate and regroup on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year basis. One of the most common things high school and college kids ask is how you know you’re ready to hit the road. Those kids who experience success on their climb up the ladder—who win consistently all the way through—pretty well know when they’re ready to step into the fire. Knowing when to step away is something every athlete has to deal with. Same goes if you’re a poker player—you have to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
When a college roper decides he’s ready to make his mark in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, it’s common to see guys like that come in and out of the PRCA for several years. (Reigning World Champion Header) Nick Sartain’s a prime example.
In years past, he’d go to the PRCA rodeos, and if he didn’t get a good start he’d go back to the amateurs and beat them up awhile. JoJo Lemond’s another good example. He’s a great roper, but never cracked out and stayed hooked until recent years. He’d go back to the amateurs and build up his money, then come back again.
I’ve never really had a great winter. When you only have a handful of rodeos, like Odessa, Denver, Fort Worth, San Angelo, Houston, Tucson and San Antonio, spread out over three months from January through March, it’s easy to get behind the eight-ball if you aren’t winning. I’ve never really gotten the ball rolling until about June or July, when you start going to a rodeo just about every day. I took a lot of last year off to stay home with my family. I won about $30,000 at big ropings in the fall, then had about three months of no competing. Clay and I couldn’t go to San Antonio or Houston this year, because of limited entries, and we had to go to the Denver qualifier because we didn’t get into the rodeo.
Years ago, there weren’t all these qualifications to get into the big rodeos. Now you have to be in the top 40 or so, or you don’t get your name in the hat. That’s been a huge factor for us this year. When we did get to go, we didn’t draw the steers we needed. I’m also the first to admit that I didn’t turn enough steers for money when we did have a chance. I attribute a lot of that to laying off awhile and not being sharp.
After a handful of rodeos this winter, it was a no-brainer that we needed to do something a little different. Clay and I have been there and done that, and have built a reputation with our schools. We booked 15 roping schools for May and June this year. Bottom line is you have to win, whether you’ve been in the PRCA for 25 years or you’re a rookie. Unless you’re wealthy, you either have to supplement your income with sponsors or win a big pot somewhere. You still have to put bread on the table somehow or another.
Clay and I are looking forward to the BFI this month. What I like about the BFI is it’s a different style of roping that plays into the hand of consistency. There’s a longer score, and we rope bigger, stronger steers. Rodeo roping has a lot of luck of the draw involved. The best ropers still win at the BFI, but your more consistent ropers have the upper hand over the gunslingers. You also need a good horse that can score and really run. It used to be that if you could knock six steers down you were going to win something. Nowadays, you have to be a little more aggressive, but you still have to get them all caught. Fundamentals are a big factor at the BFI.
Roping shows no favors to anybody. I don’t care if you’re Speedy Williams or Joe Blow. It still comes down to hard work, horses and horsemanship. If you’re willing to work hard and sacrifice, anyone can get to the highest level. But if you lose your good horse or your mojo, there’s someone there to replace you at any given moment. Somewhere along the line, you need that break—that great horse, that great steer at the George Strait or to win it all at the BFI. It’s all about securing your spot financially for another year, whatever that means. It’s like playing Texas Hold ’em. If you aren’t drawing the cards, you have a decision to make. Do you try to stay in the game, or do you take the chance and go all-in? This is a tough industry to survive in year in and year out. There’s tons of sacrifice, and the guys who stay on top are doing things right the most. You’re always turning over every stone to find the next Barney, Scooter or Butterbean. I buy and sell horses, give lessons—whatever it takes to survive. My main priority at this point in my life is being home as much as I can with my family.