Having started roping as a little kid-roping whatever would move, from dogs to other kids-I went through all the steps. I started in junior rodeo, then progressed through high school rodeo, college and amateur rodeo, plus lots of team roping jackpots. Who knew it would turn out like this-that team roping would become a major sport? To be honest, I never really thought you could make a living at rodeo when I was getting started. But I was infatuated with it. I loved to rope. Then I made my first National Finals Rodeo. It seemed like one day I woke up and I was making a living at it.
Through all the stages, you need to strive to always get better. It's like a puzzle you need to try to piece together. I always worked hard at it, but even now I strive to keep up. There was a time that Clay and I were winning everything without worrying about creating new techniques. Then the bull's-eye got put on our backs. People started watching us, and as the leaders we became the mark.
We still strive to be the best we can be. I look at a team like Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton). They took this event to another level, just like we did. More people are catching on to their style, and that just takes everybody up a notch.
It's a constant fight and challenge to try to get back to the top. I work so hard to see if I can dominate again. The road to get there is a long one, and there aren't any shortcuts. It's such a process. But you can't just say, "I want to try to be the best this year." It takes a lot of components to put it in place-an arena, a good practice partner, good cattle and good horses to rope on. And that's only the beginning.
You have to have at least one dominant, outstanding horse to have any shot of taking it to the top. And if you're really serious, your second horse needs to be almost as good. You can rope as good as you want, but you're only as good as your horse.
When Clay and I started roping we were going to 100-plus rodeos. We were jamming all the time, so there wasn't as much time to train. Now we can count 60 rodeos, so that changes things. There's no excuse not to practice and keep your horses working.
Fundamentally, roping is really simple. You have to get out of the barrier, rope the steer around the horns and turn him, your heeler has to rope two feet and you have to face. It seems so simple until you try to add speed to it. And if you're too conservative you don't win, either. So a lot of times it keeps you juggling.
When you're in that groove, your horse is working good, you're drawing good steers and your confidence is high, it's so easy and you wonder why you can't do it all the time. But when you get out of that groove, you search and start to lose your confidence. So much of it is learning how to control your emotions, and not allowing yourself to be too high or low. You need to be mentally prepared every time and make sure your horse is working.
There will be obstacles you can't overcome, like a steer that really runs or drags. You have to press on, and keep working at it, so when they do run that good one in there you're ready. Don't be easily derailed or distracted.
At this point in my career, I'm really appreciating roping. When you're younger, you think it's going to last forever. Now that there's an end in sight, I'm motivated to do my best and be competitive. It's really fun at my age to be able to compete with the young guys.
The older guys have the edge because this is such a mental game. We have that experience it takes to win. As long as we're willing to pay the price, we'll keep winning. It takes such a love of the sport, and we have that.
You have to work on all aspects of your roping. You need to be able to turn fast cattle on a consistent basis. Once you rope a steer, you need to handle him, too, or you'll hang your partner out to dry and make it hard to get a throw on your horse the next time. As you develop yourself, you have to develop your versatility and rope smart. You need to make sure you have the right kind of horse for the conditions, you need to be able to reach when need be and run in there when that's the thing to do. All this is important if you're going to cash in on the game of team roping.
You always need to keep an eye out for that next great horse that really fits you, too. You never know when that superstar is going to show up, and it's so crucial on the heading side to come up with one of those good ones. It just makes your job easier and makes your team better.