Technically, the rodeo season is now October 1 to September 30, but the roping calendar really gets rolling at the start of each new year. For ropers, ringing in the new year is a process that includes evaluating everything from your roping to your horse and your partner options, then setting goals as you look at the prospects of what the coming year might bring and going about the business of building a strategy to make it happen.
I started rodeoing back in 1981, and in rodeo there’s always been a constantly changing environment to consider as the sport evolves. My first National Finals Rodeos were in Oklahoma City, and when I was out there rodeoing for the first time a lot of the biggest rodeos didn’t even have team roping. It all changed when the big rodeos in Texas added team roping, including a geographical change and moving my family to Texas.
Part of all the change and re-evaluation includes the different bonuses offered and the various tours that have come and gone over the years. You have to keep tweaking the plan to maximize your opportunity. When they change the game, you have to change with it, if you want to make a living. Nowadays, so many of the bigger rodeos being limited is a big factor, especially for the guys trying to break into the big time.
The move of the NFR to Vegas, with the big prize money increase, affected everybody’s plans and kept a lot of us hooked a lot longer than we expected. The big jackpots also evolved. Over the course of my career, the BFI moved to Reno and got bigger and better, then here came the USTRC and World Series of Team Roping. The George Strait roping was amazing for a long time, and new ropings like the Wildfire sprung up and were sure welcomed by the ropers.
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There are always a lot of spinning plates to deal with when you rope for a living, and as the landscape changes you have to stay flexible and keep re-evaluating in order to take advantage of all the opportunities available to you. Every year seems to bring a new element to the mix, whether it’s a new rodeo to try and qualify for, a new bonus to try and win or a new tour finale you don’t want to miss.
To make it work, you have to capitalize on all possible chances to make money, because making ends meet with a rope has never been easy. We ate, slept and breathed rodeo, not only as a way of life, but as our sole source of income. Guys like Jake (Barnes) and I had places to pay for and families to raise. The guys today—the likes of Paul Eaves, Jade Corkill and Clay Tryan—are in the same chapter of their careers that Jake and I were back in the day. They’re constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the changing landscape and setting new goals based on what’s out there today, just like we did.
When the NFR ends, you roll right back into a new plan. It might include a partnership change, a new horse and any number of other needed upgrades to keep you in the mix. It may include a relocation and moving somewhere new that makes more sense.
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Ropers who want to be successful in the World Series arena set goals, too. They’ve been successful in business and have the time and money now to enjoy their hobby. Diehards like me just enjoy the sport so much that we’ll stay involved by any means necessary. Jake and I have been doing a lot of schools, where we help ropers at every level work toward their goals.
It’s all about a resolution, where we ask ourselves, “What do I want, and how am I going to get there?” Then we put the stepping stones in place and get after it. I sold my good horse (the gray Clay called Maximus) to Jade last summer. Without that caliber of horse, I’m basically a non-actor in the rodeo business. After laying out so much last year, I’m also not qualified to go to many of the winter rodeos. If you don’t stay out there all year these days, you’re basically shut out until springtime. The summer rodeos are good enough that you can still make it. It’s the harder way, but with the right horse and partner anything’s possible.