Each and every time I go out to the practice pen, there's something I'm going to accomplish out there, whether it's trying different techniques, positions, handles, whatever. I always go out there with an intent of some kind. I see a lot of people whose practice environment isn't the best, because there are too many ropers and there isn't a lot of focus. A lot of times if people come to rope with me they don't think it's a lot of fun, because I don't sit around and visit. It's a real focus, and there's a lot of intensity.
I want my good horses to work to perfection, but I want them at ease also. If I'm training, I don't like to sit around 10 minutes between steers. I can't rope 40-50 steers a day at that pace. Clay and I used to rope 100 steers a day when we were hot and heavy. At this point in my career, if I roped 100 steers in one day my arm would be aching. So it's more about quality than anything.
Having the right type of practice conditions is important, too. It's key to have the right type of practice cattle and enough of them so they don't get burned out. I don't overrope my cattle. Steers are just like horses. If you overwork them, they're going to start figuring out ways to get out of working, be it ducking their heads, slowing up, cutting in front of you or dragging. Lousy cattle mess with your confidence.
The right type of ground is important to your horse's footing in the practice pen, too. You don't need your horse slipping, falling and hurting either of you. That's where you make the most runs, so it only makes sense to have good ground where you practice.
I like to have a remote-control chute when I practice. I score a lot on my good horses, and rope a few and just follow them out without turning them. That way, I can go out there by myself if I have to. Of course, safetywise it's not a good idea to practice by yourself, in case an accident happens. But even if there are two of us, the remote comes in handy. We don't always have chute help around.
When I go out to practice for myself, it's intense. I go out there with a specific focus for the day. When I go out there with my boys I try to make it a lot more fun, and play games like, "This one's for a new truck" or "This one's the last one at the BFI" or we make little side bets. But even when we're out there having fun we still practice fundamentals.
I like to practice with my partner and another team when we get the chance, so we can have little matches and create a little pressure. Pressure is within, and you need to learn to deal with it. Regardless of the prizes or the money, you still have to get out of the barrier, rope the steer around the horns, handle him, your heeler has to rope two feet, and you have to face. Looking around at all those "what ifs" is just a distraction.