There are still certain events, ropings and rodeos, where consistency rules. The BFI, Wildfire, USTRC Finals, Salinas and Cheyenne are a few examples where a really good horse and consistency still wins. But now there are events like the George Strait and the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo)-the biggest event of the year-where it just keeps getting faster. The next generation of ropers has taken it to another level. Every one of a handful of younger guys is letting it roll on every steer, and the result is that the rodeos have been extremely tough. A short 5-second run hardly wins any money anymore in the go-rounds. Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton) dominated for so long by Speed getting it on ’em so fast and Rich making sure he caught. They beat everybody by half a second doing that. Now you have the next generation of reachers, who are maybe even more extreme than Speedy as far as hitting the line and throwing. Not only that, but the heelers are throwing right when the steers turn. Put that combination together, and things get wicked in a hurry. Clay and I have been 5.1 or 5.3 so many times this summer and won fifth or sixth place. Times are changing, plain and simple.
A lot of the change in style and speed has to do with ego. It’s not so much about making a living, because your percentages of success are a lot lower. I guess I’m out in the middle of the ocean without a paddle, because those runs are hit and miss, and not very consistent. If 10 guys out of 50 strike, and five of the heelers roping with those gunners get their steers caught, there are your winners. On the other hand, with everybody going at it like that, a leg placed in the average at rodeos like Colorado Springs.
I’m having a hard time changing and taking those lower percentage shots. I had more of that style when I was younger. Then I developed my consistency game, because it made me a better living. Over the years, consistency was more important than those fast hit-and-miss runs. We were all looking for what Charles (Pogue) and Scooter had-an awesome horse and big wins at the major rodeos and ropings, where we rope fresher type cattle over longer scores and consistency prevails.
I have so much respect for good horses that I want to ride them right and keep them working. Taking more chances is really hard on your horses. It’s also tough emotionally, because when your consistency goes down you don’t win as often. The young guys watch the guys who win the most. Speedy took reaching to another level. There was only one guy doing what he does when he started. Now all these young kids are coming onto the scene who’ve watched what he’s done, and they’re even more extreme. They’re going full bore, and they’re changing the whole game again. That makes it tough on everybody, including the horses. I’ve done my share of reaching over the years. The thing that’s hard for me is the consequences of reaching. It tears up the horses. And as expensive and valuable as head horses are, it’s hard for me to take one to the line every time and ruin him.
If you’re not willing to step up to the challenge of the changing times, it’s pretty easy to get left behind. You have to accept change, and work to stay up. Like I said, there are still the Salinases and Cheyennes, where the old style-consistency, great horses and discipline-wins. But more rodeos than not, you’ll see a lot of guys back in there and bomb. They might not even hit the steer. But if 15 of them do it and a few of them catch, there are your winners.
This is a business. It’s not so much about ego, but about making the NFR and making a living. Travis Tryan has done a great job the last couple years. He hasn’t really been a mad bomber, his horses are really good and he’s got a good rhythm. He wins a lot in the first go-round, but he does it right. He gets a good start and reaches a little bit. He’s just on the verge of all-out, only he’s a lot more consistent. Clay Tryan’s great at doing it all, too. He can reach to win go-rounds and just go catch to win the roping or the rodeo.
I’ve been in this industry for 26 years, and every year is a rebuilding year. Whether it’s your roping, your partnership or your horses, it’s always a work in progress. You have to be willing to adapt in order to give yourself a chance every year. We all have to go back to the drawing board. I’m not going to completely abandon my A-game. But I’m going to have to tweak it a little and be a little more aggressive in order to keep up with the times.