There have always been guys who rope really well who don't pursue a career in rodeo. They grew up junior and high school rodeoing, and maybe went on to amateur rodeos. They had a little taste of the rodeo industry, but the full-time rodeo deal wasn't really for them, so they focused on a different career. The travel and the lifestyle aren't for everybody. As glamorous as it looks from the outside, it's not always a bed of roses, especially for a family man. Several of us-guys like Clay (O'Brien Cooper), Allen Bach, Walt Woodard and myself-have chosen the rodeo road, and have been able to continue our careers while raising our families. Then there are guys like Travis Bard, who are competitive, but choose to only go to the really good jackpots and some of the better circuit rodeos, so they can be home with their families and for their other careers.
At this point in my life, I'm kind of envious of guys who've made the decision to do other things. I'm looking forward to being in that position someday, where I don't chase the rodeo scene and stay gone so much. We focus so much on the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo), but it takes 365 days to get qualified for the Finals. That's just such a sacrifice.
Hopefully, the rodeo business will change and improve, so we can go less and have an opportunity to win more. With the economy and fuel prices, times are changing and it's getting tougher and tougher to make it all work. You have to take a hard look at the numbers. If I could write my own script, I'd go to 30 rodeos or less, the tour finales and the NFR. That would allow me time at home with my family, but still the opportunity at big money and a decent living.
You have to find a partner with goals that line up with your own. If they don't, it throws a kink in things. Everyone wants the very best partner they can get. To find someone with common goals is critical. If your main priority is a different career, for example, your energies aren't going to be in your roping day in and day out. You and your partner need to be on the same page, whatever that is.
If you're trying to make the NFR, you have to work at it every single day. You have to be thinking about roping and roping 24/7, and methodically thinking about how to stay on top and have that edge. You cannot be distracted.
Ropers who focus more on the big jackpots can tune themselves up a couple weeks before the big events. They can get away with one good horse in that situation. A rodeo roper can't afford to bank on one horse. You have to have reserves, so you aren't sunk if something happens to that one good one. Guys with another career also have the time to buy green horses and make them themselves after work. Most rodeo ropers have to buy made, seasoned horses that are ready to go; that you can throw into the frying pan and start winning on.
You have to choose which road you want to be on, and there are pros and cons to either path. I think we're all looking over the fence at the other guys and thinking their side of the fence looks pretty good. You have to decide which side's right for you, and make the most of it.