There’s no such thing as a perfect person, cowboys included. As hard as we try to do the right thing and make our best decisions at life’s countless crossroads, we’re all human. Most mistakes and failures are mere stumbles, and so insignificant in the grand scheme of life that they are fast forgotten. Others stand out so much that even decades later they still feel fresh. They were big enough deals that we just never really got over them. Rodeo regrets are no different than any others that might make us remorseful. We polled an elite eight of some of the most respected ropers of all time to gather their reflections on moves they wish they hadn’t made.
I have two regrets from my rodeo career that really stand out. The biggest one is that I wish I’d let my rope go on the fifth steer at the 2005 (Wrangler) National Finals Rodeo when I cut my thumb off. Kory (Koontz) and I had so much momentum going, and I roped that steer pretty deep around the neck. When I pulled my slack, the steer was going left and I dropped my slack. I tried to grab my slack and beat Barney (Jake’s beloved head horse that revitalized his career) to the horn. We’ve all done that and gotten away with it, at worst with maybe a rope burn. I know I have. But the competitor in me would not say die. In my mind, I knew that if we just stayed strong and won the average, we would win the world. It was almost like time stopped at that split second. I remember telling myself in my head, “This is risky.” They say if you get in a bad wreck time goes in slow motion. I get that now.
If I had to do it over again, I’d turn loose of that rope. In hindsight, I could have lost my rope on that steer and still won the world. And forget about me. I got to win the world. Kory winning a gold buckle would have meant more to me than winning another one myself. That split second set me way back, and losing my thumb was a huge hurdle to come back from. If I’d just let my rope go, my life would have been so much easier.
The only other rodeo regret I can think of is not trying Walt—the only head horse in the Hall of Fame—when I had the chance. A friend of mine from up in Montana called and told me a friend of his had a really good horse up there. They sent me some videos. But I didn’t pursue it. I’d been on so many wild goose chases, and I was tired. I didn’t feel like spending the time and money to go out of my road and go up there. That was a hard lesson learned. Since then, I’ve left no stone unturned when I hear about good horses for sale. Because when you put talent with a great horse, you’re unstoppable.
The only regret I really have when it comes to decisions I made rodeoing was how I bounced back and forth a lot. I was pretty impatient with my partners at times, mainly Jake. I quit roping with him four or five times, and roped with other people. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that. Jake always went on and did good. Of course he did. But there were times he’d be in-between horses, and I’d get impatient because I wanted to win right now. Those were not good decisions on my part, and now it’s a regret.
Bless Jake’s heart, he’s such a trooper. He always came back and roped with me when by all rights he probably shouldn’t have. It all worked out, but Jake was the better man. He always forgave me. If I had it to do over again with the wisdom I have now, I should have stayed hooked. Jake was always going to get a better horse when he needed to, and Jake was always going to do whatever it took to win. That’s just Jake, and our chemistry was so good. We might have won another championship or two if I’d stayed more patient. But back then, it was all about today with me. I always looked at it like, “Today’s the day we need to feed our families” instead of looking at the big picture.
My impatience was a hole in me. On the other side of it, there was also a lot of good that came from my mistakes. I got to rope with some other guys, and I really enjoyed that. But Jake’s my best buddy. And to do him the way I did is a regret. I was all about winning when I should have been more patient. I should have stayed hooked with Jake, heck or high water.
Keeping regrets to a minimum has been a legitimate goal of mine throughout my career. I didn’t have a boss, and I only answered to me. In my line of work, I couldn’t blame my mistakes on anyone else. So I wrote that one down in my rodeo calendar every year—No Regrets. And that has remained a focus of mine. I’ve known all along that that’s what was going to make me happy.
As I look back on my career now, I don’t regret any of it. The bad trips, bad runs, mistakes and losses all taught me something and made me who I am. So I can honestly say I don’t regret any of it. Because one of my fears was missing out on trying a good horse, I never regretted throwing a leg over one. I was more scared of regretting not trying than of failing. I’m a visual learner anyway, so if I see a video, I know if I’m going to buy one or not.
Addressing the subject of regrets is one thing I did not overlook in my career, and I’m so thankful for that now. And I’ll never regret quitting before I was bitter. I was always leery of that. Everything I have is from rodeo. What’s there to regret? The only thing I wanted to do when I was little was make a living roping. Check.
The one regret of my career that really stands out was finishing 16th in the world two years in a row when I was roping with my son Joel. He was 19 then and he’s 31 now, but Joel had just gotten done winning three World Junior Team Roping Championships in a row—one year with Jade Corkill. Joel was on such a roll, and was one of the hottest kids at the time. It was at the end of my career, and I thought that if I could get Joel to the Finals a time or two, I could have called it a career and been completely content. There’s always a regret when you feel like you leave something on the table.
Looking back, I can’t help but think, “If only I’d gotten Joel a better head horse,” or “If only I’d been roping sharper and hadn’t let myself be so distracted with roping schools and other businesses.” Joel and I will never get those years back. Making the Finals together would have been a father-son dream. If I had that time back and to do over again, I’d have been all-in—period—and put everything else aside.
The one thing I would have changed if I could go back and do it all again is that I wish I would have moved to Texas from Montana sooner than I did. I moved at 26, but I should have done it at 22. That would have allowed me to work harder at my roping at a younger age, and I think that would have helped me a lot.
I didn’t have a place when I was young, so I was kind of like a carny. I was gone all the time, and didn’t get to practice enough. Back then, the regular season ended in November, the NFR was in December, then we turned right around and went straight back to it in January at Odessa and Denver. When you’re on the road all the time, it’s hard to work on things. Getting to be home is a huge advantage.
There will always be thoughts like, “I shouldn’t have missed this one, I should have caught that one, or I should have tried this or that horse.” But we learn from our mistakes. Mistakes are good sometimes. And when you get older, you figure out that some of the biggest disappointments and heartaches lead to you coming back and roping better because of them. Mistakes make us better. Losing hurts. It’s hard on us. It’s also a major motivator. We all wish things would go differently sometimes. But nothing’s perfect for anyone all the time. That’s just life.
I regret not high school rodeoing my senior year and going right into rodeoing full time. It could have been just the same to start (professional rodeoing) in 2007 instead of 2006, and I’ve since thought about that way more than I ever thought I would. At the time, I thought I’d never look back. Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I have that clear hindsight. Your youth goes so fast anyway. I always knew we can’t get time back, but I should have listened to everyone who at the time was telling me that that’s the best time of your life and you can’t get it back. I tell the young guys now about it, because I don’t want them to make the same mistake.
I took a pass on my fourth year of high school rodeo because I had the chance to rope with Matt Tyler. Roping with Matt was great, but I could have roped with my sister (Bailey). My senior year was her freshman year, and that would have been cool. I also loved roping calves (fun fact: Corkill qualified for the 2012 College National Finals Rodeo in both team roping and tie-down roping), and another year of high school rodeo would have let me rope more calves (not-so-fun fact: Corkill has broken his ankle three times roping calves). Rodeo’s not going anywhere. You can buy your (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) card anytime. But you only have four chances to buy your (National) High School (Rodeo Association) card. Enjoy being young when you’re young. It goes fast.
The one thing I wish I could have done different—or maybe better—is the way I rode and managed my horses. I don’t know if you’re supposed to save the good ones or not. It’s a tricky deal. If you have a good one and he only has so many runs in him, you might as well get them out of him. But looking back, I sometimes wonder if I could have ridden my good horses less, and also ridden them better. It’s probably a good thing I rode them when I had them, or I wouldn’t have won what I won.
But I’ve wondered at times, “Man, if I’d ridden Handsome like I rode Cody, would he have lasted longer than eight years? If I’d ridden Cody the way I have to ride Clint now, would Cody have stayed put together better? If I had Warthog now, I just know I’d ride him better than I did back when I was rodeoing on him.” We do get wiser. I also don’t rope as aggressively as I used to, so that in itself helps horses last longer. If only I had the wisdom I have today back when I was young. But that’s the story of everyone’s life.
We all look back and think about how things could have gone differently. I sometimes think back and wonder how my career might have gone if I’d made different decisions at pivotal times. Like, what if I didn’t quit a guy and take a chance on another partner? I’ll never know how it would have gone if I’d gone the other way with some of those choices. I always did what I thought was the right thing to do at the time, even when I knew it was probably costing me money. I did that because it’s what my conscience could live with. We all look back and wonder, “What if?” But it can make you crazy, so I try not to do that.
A lot of people ask if I regret not winning the world. Do I wish I’d won one? Yes. But I gave 100 percent of myself to roping, rodeoing and making a living for my family. And it just hasn’t happened yet. I also look back on qualifying for 22 NFRs and all the things I’ve gotten to win besides the gold buckle. I’ve gotten to win the NFR, three BFIs, the George Strait three times, five Wildfires and one US Open. So it’s still been a great career. And my rodeo journey’s not over.
I don’t feel like there’s anything I should or could have done differently that would have gotten the gold buckle for me. I always felt like I had the horses I needed. I’ve had Iceman, Jackyl, Switchblade, LB and Remix, so I’ve never played the what-if game much in my life. I feel like that brings on unnecessary stress, and life is too short to waste it worrying about what could have been. We’re better off counting our blessings and rolling on down the road.