Young guys who’ve been busy climbing the roping ranks eventually reach the crossroads of wondering if they’re ready to make it rodeoing. I tell them, “If you think you have what it takes, go for it.” But the burning desire that goes with a big dream has to be genuine. Wanting something isn’t enough without working for it. I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go over the years. It’s a jungle out there, and as fuel, horse and rig prices continue to rise, making a living rodeoing is getting nothing but tougher all the time.
Asking yourself the question about whether or not you can make roping pencil also isn’t just for the highest-numbered ropers. As we head into the busy summer roping season, recreational ropers would be wise to do an honest self-evaluation of their chances of competitive success, including the basic roping checklist. Is my horse good enough? Are my partner and me good enough to have a shot as a team? Is my rig safe and reliable enough to get us there? Do I have the money to wager, so I can still make my mortgage payment Monday morning if the ball doesn’t bounce our way this weekend?
If you’re wanting to rodeo there are even more things to consider, including which partner will handle the entering and trading. When I think back on my roping career, I have to laugh. Were we really rodeo ready when we first came in to rodeo against veteran wolves like the Camarillos? Roping is like playing poker. When you run out of money, you have to step away from the table. Truth is, we got some breaks when we needed them to keep playing the game until we gained enough experience to hold our own. I was so lucky that I never hit financial bottom. I had no safety net. But that made me hungry, and willing to work hard enough to fight for every dollar.
When we started, we went to a lot of jackpots to see if we were ready. At some point, you have to throw your sword in the fight to see if you’re capable of staying alive. There have always been guys who pulled up, went home and got jobs. Some regrouped, came back and tried again. They stayed hooked and committed long enough to finally make it over the hump.
I was always a hustler who would not take no for an answer. I knew there would be dry spells, so I spent any spare time when I wasn’t practicing teaching roping schools and selling horses. I had to be a fighter to make it, and I was smart enough to save up for the rainy days that every rodeo cowboy goes through.
When it comes to friendly advice to young guys, I highly recommend getting in with a veteran who knows the ropes, like I did when I roped with Allen (Bach) and Leo (Camarillo). It’s extra work for the veteran, but some young guys who bring a lot of talent to the party can really use that guidance. It sure made a difference for me.
I also highly recommend getting an education. High school, college and amateur rodeo are great stepping stones, and it’s no accident that my kids went to college. Spending as much time as you can around the best ropers is also good for guys who are just starting out. And there’s no substitute for winning and what that does to boost your confidence and help you know you belong.
When guys get beat up too much right off the bat, it’s tough on them. Some people who don’t make it are good enough, but can’t handle the sacrifice and disappointment. Only the true die-hards make it as rodeo ropers. Part of their secret is being able to get back up every time rodeo knocks them down.
Patrick Smith and Paul Eaves are good examples of what I’m saying here. They lived at Allen’s, and helped him with whatever he needed. They also got to be around and rope with the big boys. They started at the bottom, and worked hard to earn their keep in exchange for that priceless experience.
If you discourage easily, roping for a living is not the line of work for you. I feel like the guy who won the lottery to have gotten to live this life. Bottom line, your bank account will tell you when or if you’re ready.