Overcoming Headwinds in the Heat of Battle 
"The entire month of July is busy, and can make or break you."
Derrick Begay and Colter Todd roping a muley at the 2023 Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo.
Derrick Begay and Colter Todd roped three muleys in 21.9 seconds to win Guymon. | Photo by Dale Hirschman.

There is no more physically or mentally demanding month on the rodeo calendar than July. It’s the heartbeat of the season. The entire month of July is busy, and can make or break you. So the sooner you figure out how to deal with the adversity that’s part of rodeoing for a living, the better off you’ll be. 

In the wintertime, from January 1 to about April 1, it’s all about the Texas building rodeos. How you do at those can either jumpstart your year or put you behind the eight ball. But it’s been proven over time that you can bounce back from even the worst winter and salvage a good season out of it. 

[READ MORE: When the Rodeo Road Ends—Life After Rodeo with Jake Barnes]

Then there’s the springtime, which for me was always chill mode in California. That starts with Logandale, Nevada, now, and we always went to Oakdale, Red Bluff and Clovis. There were good ropings out there then also, like Brew’s Big One. Now there’s the Broc Cresta Memorial. It’s a fun time to hang out in the California sunshine, and the chance to enjoy a true spring of green grass and flowers blooming. 

I think it’s so cool that Red Bluff and Clovis are four-headers. I enjoy those long averages, where strategy comes into play and consistency gives you a good chance to win. I also like that they rope muleys at Clovis and Guymon (Oklahoma in May) these days. 

Rodeo’s real “go time” starts the third week in June at the Reno Rodeo, and rolls right into Cowboy Christmas, which runs right into rodeos like Casper (Wyoming), Sheridan (Wyoming), Vernal (Utah), Cody (Wyoming), Cheyenne (Wyoming) and Salinas (California). 

Salinas has always been my favorite. It’s the only five-header in rodeo, and has the longest scoreline in the sport. Nampa (Idaho) can be tricky to make on top of it, depending how you get up. And Cheyenne’s new tournament-style format is a whole different ballgame.   

July is such a grind, and guys today can’t even imagine what it was like when we were going to 120 rodeos a year. Talk about stress. I would never have made it my rookie year in 1980 had I not roped with a veteran like Allen Bach. I was so green that I didn’t even know what state we were in half the time. And roping with the reigning world champ did add some extra pressure. 

[READ MORE: What’s Your Reason for Roping?]

Then there was the intimidation factor, which can be tough if you’re new to the scene. It was overwhelming to me at first, and I remember a lot of times I wanted to throw in the towel and go home. A couple weeks into me going out into the frying pan for the first time, Leo (Camarillo) rode up to me and said, “Son, are you ready to go back to Texas, where you belong?” That really got to me. But it also motivated me to dig down deep, not quit and prove I was good enough. 

I roped with Allen in 1980, ’81, ’82 and the first half of ’83, then started roping with Leo for the second half of 1983 and in ’84. Allen was the ultimate competitor, be it basketball or roping. Leo taught me how to train to be a world champion. He had a trophy room with an apartment in it, and it was the first time I’d ever trained with my partner one-on-one, as a team. 

Allen and I wore ourselves a little bit thin. Leo had a saying, “We’re not going to step over quarters to pick up a nickel.” In other words, we weren’t going to burn up our horses at a bunch of little jackpots. I didn’t have much for horsepower at that time anyway, so we managed what we had. Roping with Leo helped me get over the hump. He took me from the goal of trying to make the Finals to having the goal every year after that of winning the world. 

Starting in 1985, Clay (Cooper) and I took a page out of what I learned from Leo, and started roping 100 steers a day when we lived in Arizona. We developed our run, and by then I’d invested in practice horses. 

As tough as the rodeos are today, it’s easy to make good runs and still not win anything. One of the things experience taught me was not to dwell on losses, whether you draw bad or stub your toe and make a mistake. If you dwell on the past, it fouls up your future. TRJ

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