Clay Cooper and I roped our first steer in San Angelo the other day (in 2017). I threw really fast, and I missed. As I was riding out the back, I told Champ “Man, it won’t kill a guy to take one more swing.” He just laughed and grinned. I could have just taken one more swing and been fast enough. Anyway, I uncinched and unbooted my horse. About 15 minutes later, I told Champ, “No, I ain’t going to take one more. I’m going to throw when I want to throw.”
The next day was slack, and we did a lot better because it felt like when I rode in the box, I told myself to slow down a little bit, and it felt like I did that. Riding out the back, I told Champ, “See, I took that extra swing and it worked.”
“You didn’t take one more,” he said and kind of laughed. Anyway, a couple days later we went to Yuma, and we were one of the last teams out. It was kind of soft. So we drew a good steer, I got a good start, and I took an extra swing over the steer and split the horns. I told Champ, “See, that’s why you don’t take that extra swing.”
A roper needs to learn how to figure out, in the middle of his or her swing, the line between throwing too fast and taking one more. There’s a line that everybody has, and it’s mostly mental. At San Angelo, I threw so fast because I was wanting to be fast. I was trying to force things to happen instead of letting things come together. At the other rodeo, I was past my normal spot. I was just trying to catch but put some sauce on it, and I just missed.
If you do it enough, you’ll know. But you’ll miss plenty in the process. Being able to walk that line is what separates the best guys in the world. We all kind of know where our line is. We try to hit it every time. We know our sweet spot. But every now and then you’ve got to let your hair down and throw before the line, and sometimes you’ve got to go past the line.
A lot of it has to do with timing—where you leave the box, your swing, and what kind of start you got. If all three come together, then you hit your spot. If all those three line up, that’s all you need to know. It doesn’t matter if you’re at Cheyenne or the NFR, if you can set up your timing, you can catch. Sometimes you miss the barrier, sometimes you’ve got to pull at the line. Those things all change your timing a little bit. You have to know how to ride through it and throw through it if you do.
Having timing and knowing your sweet spot comes down to confidence in your ability. The best ropers in the world can miss 10 in a row, but they aren’t thinking about any of that on their next one. They’re thinking of doing their job—getting a good start, riding to their sweet spot and throwing.
When I practice, I think about all the good headers from Trevor Brazile to Clay Tryan to Chad Masters to Tsinigine, Rogers, Bird and Driggers. I think how fast they’ll be, what their run would look like. There are always those people who win everywhere, and if you think what they’ll do when you’re at home in your practice pen, they’ll be the ones to beat. If you can think about all of that when you’re practicing, think those guys already went and now it’s your turn to match what they’ve done, beat them, or stay with them. At the end, imagine it’s the short round and now you’ve got to really step up and make your run faster than theirs. You’ve got to visualize it all. Those guys are the best, and you want to always think what they’re doing and what they’re up to. They’re practicing, so you better be too.
Everybody does have a sweet spot, from the top ropers to the lower numbered ropers. What’s real tricky about that is you can’t just keep doing that all the time. You have to stretch the limits from time to time. When you have your spot, you can work on throwing faster before your sweet spot or work on throwing past it, too. You can push yourself to get better, and then eventually your sweet spot will be consistently faster.