Practice to Stay Sharp with Clay O’Brien Cooper

To set up your practice so you stay sharp at your roping, you need to constantly take inventory and get a read on how everything feels. There are two main things that I analyze each and every day: 1. How’s my horse doing, physically and mentally, and 2. How does everything (i.e., my swing, timing and delivery) feel as it pertains to my ability to set up my run? This is all a day-to-day process.

When I go to the practice pen, I go there for a reason-to work on me or my horses in one way or another. I don’t just show up and spend two hours, run 20 steers and go to the house. Each day, I have a specific plan for each horse I’m hauling and for me.

My roping is pretty much reaction at this point in my career, based on how my horse is letting me set up my position and my shot. Some horses don’t need a lot of practice. They need to be exercised, but maybe only ridden on two or three runs to keep their confidence and let me know they’re hitting the mark. That’s how they’re best maintained. My old buddy Ike is one of those horses.

Other horses take more work. They don’t start working into a good rhythm until eight or nine steers into a practice session. If I have a green horse that needs to work toward a good pattern, he needs more runs. I need to work with him until I have confidence that I can count on him when I haul him.

Your horse makes you or breaks you. He either makes it easy or he makes it difficult. Probably the biggest part of my practice is really focusing on my horses and what they need. That’s the hardest part of my job. It takes a lot of playing runs back in my mind, sometimes replaying runs back from two months back, in order to fix today’s problem without blowing up my horse.

The thing that tears me up the most is to make mental mistakes on my judgment as it pertains to my horses. If they mess up, it’s my fault. I’m the maintenance man. If there’s a breakdown that keeps me ftrom getting into position, it’s my fault. Either that horse can’t do it or I haven’t prepared him properly to do it.

Roping’s all preparation, and winning’s all preparation. If I prepare like I need to in the practice pen, I’m ready to win when I get to the roping or rodeo. When you prepare well and get things sharp at home, you can go tright to the place where the money is and boom-it’s going to click. You’ve trained yourself and your horse to react, and that’s what it takes.

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