Sooner or later, it's inevitable that you'll get your number raised as your skill level improves. And as you get to where you start winning, there becomes a strategy as to where to go compete. If you just go to the same old places and beat 'em up all the time, you'll typically get your number raised to where you can't go to the bigger ropings. There's some strategy to succeeding within the system. There are times when it seems overnight that someone goes from just playing around to roping pretty decent. If they get partnered right, they go wipe everybody out. This applies to everybody-men, women and children. Some people are smarter than others about managing their climb and their success.
If you have good partners and are mounted pretty good, you want to go to the ropings that pay the most money and utilize your number to your best advantage. Too many people just like to go rope, they don't care where, so they'll go to any little old jackpot. But that's where they'll get their numbers raised before they really get a chance to go compete for trucks, trailers and big money. If I had a family member or friend who was competing and was really interested in winning something, I would be smart about his or her number and where they went to rope. (Clay in the practice pen with daughter Bailey.)
It costs a lot to go to ropings, so I'd suggest going where you can win the most money and have a chance to do something big. There are ropings around that don't cost too much in entry fees but still give away good prizes and lots of money. (This is Clay and daughter Quinn.)
There are some annual ropings, like the Lariat Bowl, Booger Barter ropings and the USTRC ropings, where the money is so good for the lower-numbered ropers. I would think if I was a low-numbered roper, I would try to get the best partners I could for some of those bigger events. The whole key is to be competitive within your targeted number bracket.
Generally speaking, the teams with the best chance in any roping are the teams made up of ropers with more even numbers, as opposed to two ropers at different ends of the skill spectrum. A No. 7 and an 8 have a lot better chance of winning in the No. 15 roping than me roping with a No. 5 header (Clay's a No. 10 heeler), because a 7 header is way, way better than a 5 header. But 8 and 10 heelers are really pretty close. A 7 and an 8 will beat a 5 and 10 team 19 out of 20 times. I've roped in several No. 15 ropings the last few years, and have never won anything.
Your chances are all about percentages, and it's so expensive to go rope that you don't want to just throw your money away. You want to give yourself the best possible chance to win, so you want to compete against guys with numbers similar to yours and rope with the best possible partner in that category. If I was a low- numbered roper, I'd probably only rope in two or three ropings and focus on getting the best partners and staying within the competition level of my number. If I was a No. 5, for example, I'd probably just rope in the No. 9, 10 and 11 ropings. If I was a No. 6 or 7, I'd probably only rope in the 11 and the 13.
If you're a low-numbered roper, like a 4, and you win something with a high-numbered roper in a high-numbered roping, you can expect to be nabbed and hiked to a higher number. If you can rope against the higher-numbered guys, and win, then they figure you must be misnumbered. Since the likelihood of you winning in that situation against the higher-numbered ropers is remote, it's hardly worth the risk, in my opinion. You're better off to stick to the ropings within your skill level, where you not only have a better chance of winning, but have a lesser chance of getting your number raised. That's just how the system is. I'm not saying you shouldn't try to improve and move up the ladder. But it has to be mixed with wisdom and strategy within the system. It's not cheating; it's just being smart and giving yourself the best possible odds. It's your best shot at making more money and not getting your number raised to the point where it takes you out of competition. STW