One of the ways roping is different from other sports is that we don’t have coaches. But with all the technology available today, there are countless resources available to ropers at all levels of the game if they’ll take the time to seek them out and have enough interest to study and take advantage of them. I’ve been a student of the game all my life, and that thirst for knowledge and striving to stay out front as our sport continues to evolve has always motivated me. I might be at the end of my career, but I’m still striving to get better so I can stay up with the times.
Professional ropers train all the time. Recreational ropers can train, too, even if they don’t have as much time to devote to roping because of jobs and other obligations. Having a purpose—specific things you’re working on to improve your roping—when you rope the dummy and practice is a big key. Don’t just chase steers and go through the motions. Decide on a few things you really want to focus on, and work to improve in those areas. Whether it’s your scoring, the position you ride, the delivery of your loop and getting your slack, how you handle steers or facing, if you work toward small pieces of progress all the time you’ll see that it adds up pretty quickly.
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The best in the business have mastered their fundamentals, horsemanship and the mental game. But in my opinion, none of us ever totally “arrives,” because there’s always more to learn and ways we can improve. Leo Camarillo’s the guy who first taught me to treat team roping as a business, and he left no stone unturned when it came to working on everything from his horses to how we entered.
I know everyone’s not cut from the same cloth, but this is a business and a lifestyle for me. Roping is my living, my passion and my heartbeat. Some people go to a job to make a living, and I respect that. My whole world just happens to be roping, whether I’m competing or helping others. Basically, roping is my living and my hobby, so my days revolve around it.
To get to the level I did took constant work. Trying to stay there is a job, too, because it’s so tough to maintain at the highest level. Roping’s a job in itself, if you want to max out. They say it’s not a job if you love what you’re doing. I’ve been so fortunate to have the privilege of doing what I love. But it’s not always a bed of roses for any professional roper. When you own your own business—like we do—there are struggles just like in any other line of work.
I’ve had 900 “patients”—as in students—in recent times, and almost all of them have had one symptom in common. I can watch them rope the dummy and know they don’t like to rope slow cattle, because they rope the dummy from a distance. I’ve noticed that a lot of lower-numbered ropers practice on stronger cattle. Then when they go to the roping, they split the horns on softer cattle.
I ride a lot of horses, and practice by myself a lot. I think roping machines are a really good tool for starting and riding young horses, and also for beginners and kids. They make for an easy progression to slower cattle, too, which is the next step and the best way in the world to learn to rope. It’s also good for your horse, because it lets him relax, and you aren’t asking for his life every time. Practicing on faster, stronger cattle tends to get horses hot.
I have a lead steer we head and heel, and he’s pretty valuable, too, for my young horses and lessons. Slow things down and get good advice. It’s a lot to take in, but there’s also a lot of benefit to be had by taking advantage of all the roping tools available today. When I learned to rope, we relied on what our dads told us. We didn’t have videos of ourselves and others to study, like we do now, so we did what we could. When we swung our rope on the ground, we looked at our shadow to see how it looked.
The fact that our phones can take pictures and videos, connect to websites and let us watch YouTube videos gives us all easy access to so much valuable information. Take advantage of it.