Mastering Fundamentals with Clay O’Brien Cooper
Cooper shares how having fundamentals are the foundation for all ropers.

For the last 35 years, I’ve been helping people with their roping at schools, in magazines, and on websites. I’m sure it seems like such a common cliché to say that everybody has to learn the proper fundamentals before they can advance their roping. But it’s true. And my comments on every video that I analyze for a world-class or hobby roper always come back to core fundamentals.

At the highest level, we break down every detail of every run, because the difference between winning and not is so small. Lower-numbered ropers always want to know what they can do to step up their game, and the truth is that the only thing the top ropers in the world have over them is they’ve spent the time to really solidify and master their fundamentals. The edge the elite guys have over everyone else is that their fundamentals are so strong, and they’ve built on them.

When I’m talking about fundamentals, I’m talking about position, swing, angles, timing, and delivery. The top guys can add components to those core areas, and those are the things that make them unique in their styles. Professional ropers have worked so hard at mastering the basics that they don’t have to think about them much anymore. Doing things right is basically second nature now. Those guys can add building blocks to those basics and it takes them to a higher level.

Sometimes people who haven’t mastered the fundamentals think that there are secrets to success, and that they’re going to find some magic way of doing things from someone like me. There really are no secrets to roping, and there are no substitutes for hard work.

Every roper needs to learn how to be in the right place at the right time with a proper swing, timing, and delivery in order to win something. Without the basics, you find yourself with a gaping hole. If you can’t get your horse to the right spot, you aren’t going to catch many steers. If you can’t time a steer, your catching percentages will be cut in half. If you don’t develop your swing angles and the ability to use the bottom of your rope, your percentages of catching are minimal.

It’s exciting for me to work with people at all levels on their roping. The biggest thrill is when the light bulb goes off when someone learns something significant. It all clicks, and they see that it works better than the way they’d been doing it. When you finally get it, and you’re able to incorporate another key element into your roping, it’s not only exciting for the student, but for the teacher, too.

Always remember that your fundamentals are your foundation. It’s like building a house. Without a good foundation, the rest of what you build isn’t going to hold up. We’re only as good as our fundamentals. It seems like I’ve learned more in the last seven or eight years since I’ve gotten back out on the road. I’ve had to up my game, because roping has progressed so much—more the last seven or eight years than in my whole career before that. The most important thing I realize is that no matter what types of changes I try to make, the ideas I get from watching great ropers rope is all built on the fundamentals of position, swing, timing, and delivery.

We all love to watch Junior Nogueira pull off a crazy shot. But what you might not realize is how crazy fundamentally sound he is. You can’t do what Junior does without amazing fundamentals. What he’s really developed in recent times is his position, and you don’t see him in such wild position anymore. Junior’s been here long enough to see the rodeo play, he knows how to get in the right spot, and he’s got good horses. It’s pretty simple, really—those are the basic reasons he’s so hard to beat. 

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