I don’t know what Babe Ruth’s strikeout percentage was, but every time he stepped up to bat he tried to hit a home run. It wasn’t so much about getting on base or driving in runs. He swung for the fence every time. At the very start of my professional roping career, I was kind of a gunslinger. I came out of the amateur rodeos in South Texas, where the scores were short and you could enter twice.
In 1980, when I got in with Allen Bach, who was my first partner at the pro rodeos, there was some serious culture shock. We’d get in that truck and drive eight or 10 hours. The scores were longer and the cattle were bigger, so the conditions were really different than what I was used to. My first month out on the big trail was no good. I really struggled.
The timing of me turning pro—the third week in June that year—threw me straight into the fire. Our first three rodeos were North Platte (Nebraska), Grand Junction (Colorado), and Reno (Nevada). I’d barely been out of New Mexico, where I grew up, and Texas, so my circle had been small. And there I was jumping on charter planes with Allen Bach, who was the king of mixing jackpots and rodeos, and the ultimate road warrior.
My catching percentages were so low at first. I was star struck, for starters. And I was intimidated. I felt like I was in a heavyweight fight, and I was a banty rooster. Like a lot of kids, I liked to stay up late roping the dummy, then sleep ’til noon. Suddenly, there were all-night drives. I got so tired. I had to learn to pace myself, but I was basically hanging on by a thread. I was overwhelmed.
I wouldn’t have blamed Allen if he’d cut me loose after the first month and let me go back to my comfort zone. I was the king at those amateur rodeos in South Texas, but Allen was the reigning world champion heeler, and I was having heck.
As I matured as a business person in my career, I changed my game and worked on my percentages. I stopped trying to win first every time, and became a more consistent roper. I remember one time when Clay (O’Brien Cooper) and I were in our prime, we went to three one-headers in one weekend out in California and won all three of them. But I’ll be the first to admit that times were not as tough as they are today.
When Charles Pogue had Scooter, he was my idea of the perfect roper—a good horseman on a good horse. He made it look so easy. It was like poetry in motion, and I watched him give his heelers a shot every time. That’s the way I wanted to do it, too. The average is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and that’s where the big money and prestige are.
It was also easier to keep my horses running—and from ducking—when I roped more consistently. I started roping with Clay in 1985, and it just didn’t make sense to go for first every time and drop the ball when I was roping with one of the most consistent heelers of all time. But even when Clay and I dominated and were winning all those championships we didn’t win every time. Nobody does.
It’s so tough out there today that you have to be aggressive—consistently aggressive. I’ve been 3 one time in my life, and guys are 3 and 4 all the time now. You can take the barrier down and run in the best steer, and still don’t ask me to be 3 every time.
I went to three rodeos in Texas with Rich Skelton the other day, and placed at all three of them. We were 5.3, 5.4, and 5.6, and placed fifth, sixth, and seventh. At one rodeo, 3.8, 3.9, and 4.1 won the first three holes. Rich and I made flawless runs that back in the day might have won all three rodeos. That’s just life out there today.