Riding Rodeo’s Roller Coaster with Clay O’Brien Cooper
Clay O'Brien Cooper talks about the ups and downs of the #RoadtoNFR14

All year long Chad (Masters) and I have just kind of struggled. From Reno to Cheyenne, our schedule is always jam-packed with big-paying rodeos, and Cheyenne is the kicker. It seems like Cheyenne’s a big turning point, where you need to have a certain amount of money won by that time. Your expectations are built up by then to where it creates its own energy—almost a life of its own. If you get your goal done by then and kind of meet your expectations, you’re feeling pretty good about how things are going. If you don’t meet your expectations of what you want to have done by that time of year, then you know it’s going to be a dogfight all the way to the end. There’s not much more breathing room left once you get to late summer. So you set yourself up for an emotional hit when you don’t meet your goals as you go. If you can get on a roll in the heat of the summer you kind of feel like you can breathe a little where it’s not so much of a struggle. If you can have about $50,000 won by the end of Cheyenne, you can kind of coast on in. But I had about $34,000 won after Cheyenne. We made two pretty good runs on runners there, and barely made it back to the short round. We needed a good steer to move up in the average, and sure enough drew the best one. Chad turned him and I missed him. That was kind of crushing to my emotions. Cheyenne was supposed to be the saving grace. Then that happened. I’m all-in and my partner’s all-in. We’d been struggling, and that’s when it’s the easiest to get on the roller coaster.

Credit: Lone Wolf Photography

Every day is a test of your will to keep a good attitude. It’s tough out here. You have to do everything you can think of to make the team click. We’ve been hit and miss this year, which put more pressure on us.

When it’s up and down, it becomes such a mental game. When you fail, it’s back to the old grind. The rodeos aren’t quite as good the last quarter of the season as far as there being enough money on the table where you can make big moves, so if you aren’t in the top 15 and you’re struggling at the bottom it’s really tough.

On the other hand, that’s where all the action is. The guys who are 10th place and up are sitting pretty good. All the turmoil and grind is from 15th to 25th. That’s where the battle’s at.

I had built Cheyenne up as really important. During that four-week stretch my hopes were high for us to really move up in the standings. Every week the tension builds when you don’t meet your own expectations. Cheyenne is a big deal. A lot of teams go home after Cheyenne, if they don’t have enough won to still have a chance to make the Finals. Other guys are switching partners and making new teams. That always happens after Cheyenne, because it’s the three-quarter mark of the season.

I had to regroup and reset mentally after Cheyenne to assess how to approach the rest of the season. The dogfight is on now. We don’t get to rest easy and coast on in. It’ll all be decided by the time this issue hits your hands (the regular season ends September 30), but as we go to press it’s all still up in the air. We still have to keep grinding and working on it, to have a chance to see it all the way through to the end. That’s just where my ball’s been bouncing through the summer.

Chad and I both have struggled this year. We’ve both made mistakes. So we’ve been struggling with our confidence. But we’ve been continuing to talk about what we need to do, going over it, practicing and preparing. Each week we’re trying to get a new perspective, so we can build the expectation and the desire to move forward and turn things around. We’ve taken turns being down. But on Monday morning you have a job to do. You have to look at the positive, encourage each other and the team, build a new game plan, get back in the ring and keep swinging at it.

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