As I watch rodeo runs and see the times in the results, I thank God I’m 60 years old and not 20. My goodness, roping’s gotten tough. Yes, conditions have changed. The steers are smaller, the scores are shorter, and that has a lot to do with the speeding up of our event. But what’s going on in the team roping world today is also a product of current circumstances, with fewer rodeos because of COVID cancellations. When over 100 of the best teams in the world gather in the same spot for a one-header, all caution is thrown to the wind. It’s a hard time to win, and a tough time for head horses.
One of the guys who’s always in the mix these days is Junior Nogueira, who’s roping with Cody Snow now. I have a lot of personal and professional history with Junior, so I’ll always pay pretty close attention to how he’s doing. When Junior came to America in December of 2013, there was a guy who kept ranting and raving to me about this kid from Brazil. I didn’t believe him and all the hype. The guy said Junior wanted to meet me, and asked if he could bring him to my house to rope. I said yes.
Junior worked the chutes all day long the first day he came. I told him if he showed up an hour earlier the next day, I’d rope a few with him. He was on an old crappy horse. He’d rope cattle on the left side of his horse, then he’d flip his rope over his horse’s head and dally. Half the time he’d crossfire. His talent was pretty obvious.
One thing led to another, and I told Junior he could move in with us. It’s funny how life goes. I had sold my truck and trailer, and thought I was done rodeoing. With our youngest son off to college, Toni and I were empty nesters. Then here came Junior. I bought him a horse, and away we went. I’m old school when it comes to fundamentals, and Junior’s roping was not conventional, where you set up a run so you can be consistent. I was always on his butt about riding good position, and I was down on that pulling back stuff.
But I have to hand it to him. Junior rejuvenated me, and we made the National Finals that year. And he’s been part of the transition to how fast everybody ropes today. There are so many one-headers now, and everybody bombs. These days, headers are liable to throw three coils on the first steer in a five-head average, and their heelers are throwing on the switch. I used to say how stupid that was. But they all do it now, so I guess they proved me wrong. With everybody taking chances, it’s just insane how tough roping is today. If they told me I had to be a quick 4 to place in a round somewhere, I wouldn’t drive across the street, much less halfway around the world.
And from the chatter I hear from the lower-numbered ropers, it isn’t much different at the recreational level. I had a #5 roper tell me the other day that he went to a #11 World Series roping, and three 9-second runs didn’t make the short round. You used to be able to rope a leg and still advance in a roping at that level. Not anymore. All ropers have stepped it up.
At the other extreme, only one team—Erich Rogers and Paden Bray—roped all 10 steers at the 2020 NFR. That might surprise some people from the best ropers in the world. But I compare it to a racecar going 100 miles an hour around a curve that’s rated for 50. Most of even the expert drivers are going to crash, and that’s what happens when the style of roping is to go for first every time.
When everybody else hits the barrier and throws, you better be doing it, too. There’s no time for safetying up and just making a consistent, controlled run. Ropers at every level need to stay up or stay home. I never thought I’d see the day when the 7-footers shot three-pointers in basketball, either. That’s just progress.