The whole world’s been shut down, and that’s been tough on team ropers. Cowboys are resourceful, so most of us have found a way to keep roping. I’ve been spending my days in my office, which is the arena here at home. Out of an abundance of caution, Clay (Cooper) and I have had our roping schools on hold, and I’ve been being careful and not leaving my place much. Nobody can predict with certainty how the rest of this year is going to play out just yet. At worst, we’ll push pause for a year, but hopefully it won’t come to that. Certain events in life are game changers, and the coronavirus is no exception.
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In my opinion, the last major game changer in the rodeo business was the ERA (Elite Rodeo Association) in 2016. A bunch of us—from Trevor Brazile on down—stepped out on a limb and took a chance. We were trying to take a stand with the goal of more money and less travel for professional rodeo cowboys. The ERA opened some doors and some eyes on the possibility of progress. With a lot of the big dogs sitting out the regular rodeos that year, it gave some young guys the opportunity to make their first NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo).
Taking a stand with the ERA cost those of us who tried it a season. And we didn’t get into the winter rodeos in 2017, either. But our hearts were in the right place, and we were trying to make things better for the guys coming up behind us. The ERA didn’t last long, but it did shake things up, and I do think the younger ropers today have more going for them than we did because of it.
The business of roping for a living has been evolving from the start. The first guy who taught me to treat team roping like a business—Leo Camarillo—was a pioneer in our sport. He only got in on the tail end of the NFR moving to Vegas. In those early years in Vegas, the go-rounds only paid about $3,000 in the team roping, and they only paid four places. What would Leo’s life—or even mine—look like now if $26,000 go-rounds and an $80,000 average would have been around all of our careers?
The USTRC and World Series of Team Roping have been industry game changers. Team roping becoming a standard event at all the rodeos, and equal money have also been game changers. There has been a lot of progress, and it’s better for guys who make a living roping now—and also recreational ropers—than ever before. The coronavirus has been a game changer this year, because it shut everything down. What we don’t know is how everything will look when we come out of it, and ropers start getting back to work with the rest of America.
I’d like to think that it’s headed toward a place with a more reasonable travel schedule and better pay, like what we were after with the ERA. I want the guys who rope for a living today to have it better than I did, just like I had it better than Leo did.
My daily ritual today goes back to what Leo taught me all those years ago. I get up in the morning and go feed my horses before I eat my own breakfast. Then I saddle all my horses, clean all my pens and get to work. They say it isn’t really work if you love what you do, so I feel very fortunate. I’ve also been grateful here lately that I was raised to live within my means and save for a rainy day. It’s been raining here lately with the coronavirus, but the sun will come out again, and ropings and rodeos will get back to rolling.