At the end of each year, you not only prepare for the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo), but also strategize for the following season. Are you going to stay with your NFR partner in the new year, or not? With less than 30 days until the new season starts, you can't afford to wait until the Finals ends to start thinking about who you'll be roping with the following year and making plans. Some of the things you factor into partnership decisions include how hard each guy wants to travel, goals and the horses involved. Sometimes teams get stagnant, and a partner change can freshen things up and give each of you new goals to shoot for. In my case, I went into the 2005 NFR planning to rope with Kory (Koontz) in 2006. But my accident at the Finals changed everything. Suddenly, we had no idea what the future held, so I told Kory he needed to go ahead and make other plans for 2006 (Kory's roping with David Key this year; Jake's been roping with Brock Hanson, and more recently, Dean Tuftin, on a limited schedule).
Generally speaking, a successful team needs great chemistry. Even if it makes sense on paper, some teams just don't click. That's the creative part of the sport; it doesn't always go like what you'd guess on paper. That's why we play the game-because we don't know what the outcome's going to be. Every team's out there trying to create their own dynasty. You never know what combination's going to be the magic one, because you can't predict team roping. It's like a fantasy game, and there are more underdogs than there are favorites. That's what keeps everybody going.
The head horse is so important to which teams are dominant. So naturally a guy with a great head horse is going to have a lot of good offers for heelers. As far as my horse herd goes, (Jake's gray horse) Barney's starting to get some age on him, so while I've been doing my rehab I've been trying to locate another great one. I'm looking for the diamond in the rough or the needle in the haystack. And they don't come around every day. There just aren't that many great ones out there.
Something else that's really common is that once a team decides to split up, they tend to start winning. It happens just about every time. Basically, all the pressure is lifted and there's nothing to lose. The attitude is,"He can't quit me now, so what the heck." Almost every time, a team starts winning once that decision to go separate ways has been made.
What I'm looking for in a partner is someone with the same goals, and someone I can communicate with. I always tell my partners that if at any point in this relationship he feels I'm not doing my job or that he can get a better partner, he needs to tell me. I never want to hold anybody back. By the same token, if we aren't winning I have no choice but to look for someone else. I'll stick with anybody as long as I can and as long as he's working really hard and has good horses and all that. But if the equation changes, no one should ride a ship that's going down. That's not good for either partner.
You see so many of the older guys dominating these days. That has a lot to do with the older guys taking care of all the business that goes with doing this for a living, like getting entered, traded, travel arrangements and keeping good horses. When you're young, you sometimes have a tendency to have fun and let some things slide. It's not so much life or death to you at that point in your life. When I was younger, I just wanted to stay out there and rodeo. There were no pressures. Now I want to get home to my family every chance I get. So it's important to rope with someone who understands that. Staying on the same page at all times is what makes any partnership work. STW