When you’re at the top of your game you don’t have to think about changing your style or strategy, because everybody’s chasing you. You make your game plan and go execute it. After all these years I know all the setups and conditions, so I basically know what it takes to win wherever we go. But that said, as the roping bar keeps getting raised, I’m now having to rethink my strategy to keep up with the times. The conditions we rope under really vary. We go to little buildings for one-headers and we go to a five-header over a long score at Salinas. I’ve seen it all so many times that I know what’s basically going to happen before we even get there. At Red Bluff (Calif.) every spring, it’s likely to rain and the steers are likely to either go left to that fence or try to beat you to the right. At Clovis (Calif.) it’s easy to get into that left wall, and the catchpen is in the left corner. So by the time the short round comes there’s a good chance they’ll be headed left, which makes it hard. Luck of the draw and conditions are huge factors in what we do. But no matter where we are or what the conditions, we always make a pre-game game plan or strategy everywhere we go.
As just one example of conditions, the steers at Guymon (Okla.) are dead fresh. They’ve never been roped or even run through. So in the first round, the steer’s going to walk out and there’s no telling where he’s going to go. You know before you get there that you need a horse that’ll stand there and score. You also know right up front that because of the degree of difficulty on those fresh cattle, three 7-second runs will win you big money there every year.
At Guymon and Cheyenne (Wyo.), I use similar strategy, because the steers are dead fresh at both places. At Cheyenne they put two steer roping runs on the steers first, then we team rope them. It’s important at both those places that your heeler does not wiggle over on that heeling side or he’ll shoot the steer left. A lot of guys nod for their steer at those places when the steer turns his head backward, because a steer’s more likely to walk out than take off running if he starts with his head turned back, as opposed to facing forward when you nod.
If you have a steer that runs over to the left at Cheyenne it hurts your chances, so it’s really important to keep steers out in the middle of the arena or even headed to the right a little bit. Since the steer’s going to react to what he sees first, it is again critical that your heeler sits still over there.
Every now and then everybody’s going to draw up first. If it’s a one-header, I really push the barrier and try to win the rodeo. I push the envelope to the very max. You’re at a disadvantage, because everybody else gets to sit there and watch the start and come after you once you’ve set the bar. The scores are set the same at a lot of the rodeos, so you can figure out the start even when you are first. A lot of times it’s “even,” where the length of the scoreline is the same as the depth of the box. Or it’s “one foot under” or “two feet under,” where the scoreline is two feet shorter than the depth of the box.
Discussing your strategy before you rope is really healthy for a team. Factor in the conditions and what steer you draw, and make a plan. It eliminates a lot of guessing. Knowing the steer is a huge advantage, and by knowing him and doing certain things (i.e., hazing him accordingly), it’s possible to get a steer out of his usual pattern.
Talking and communicating as a team is so important. Both partners share the goal of helping the team win. Talk about everything from horses to handles. Figure things out together. Most ropers are pretty prideful, and sometimes let that get in the way of talking through things to where you’re a stronger team on the other side. Talk about which rodeos you want to enter and how you want to enter them. Don’t make the mistake of not being a team player by not talking. For the best of the team, you need to voice your true opinions—good and bad—and come up with the best strategy for your team as a team. SWR