Words from the champ

The Battle of Making All Moving Parts Work as One
Keeping two people, two horses and a steer on the same page. 
Clay O'Brien Cooper roping in arena with mountains in the background
According to Clay, “Judging the moves of that steer that’s trying to outsmart and outmaneuver you is part of the challenge and fun.” | TRJ file photo

All the different rodeo events require a lot of multitasking, and the coordination of so many moving parts provides a real challenge. I don’t know that people who haven’t lived it really understand the battle. It takes so much practice to isolate the various fundamentals you have to do right simultaneously to be successful in our sport.

Other sports are that way, too. And what’s unique about rodeo is that you’re adding animals to the mix. So now you’re not only multitasking in what you’re trying to train yourself to do in real-time, but also having to coordinate that with animals. In the case of team roping, you’re trying to keep two people, two horses and a steer on the same page. 

[READ MORE: Getting Where You Need to Be]

Judging the moves of that steer that’s trying to outsmart and outmaneuver you is part of the challenge and fun. When you conquer and win, that’s also part of the reward. It all just takes a lot of repetition to master the many moving parts.

Every event is so different from both a contestant and spectator point of view. A bareback rider’s style is totally different from a saddle bronc rider’s or a bull rider’s. Bulldoggers go at it without a rope. It’s all pretty fascinating when you start breaking rodeo down. 

Of all the events, team roping is the ultimate when it comes to participation. Jake (Barnes) and I have 8- to 85-year-olds at our schools, and ours is the event more people in the stands have a shot at trying for themselves. It’s so fun to help people figure it out, and I try to teach from a point of encouragement. I like to tell people what I see them doing well before I mention the one thing that cratered the deal. Bringing that one thing to their attention can be frustrating, but when that lightbulb goes off it’s well worth it. 
It takes relentless repetition to climb the roping ladder, but if you stick with it, the run starts to slow down in your mind. And over time, things slow down enough to where you can react your way through it and gain some confidence. That confidence lets you know that, “Hey, I can do this.” That’s when you see people get excited. Their confidence grows with a little success, and it’s fun.

[READ MORE: If You Can See It, You Can Do It]

When I was a little kid, I just loved to rope. I grew up in a commercial arena in Southern California, and we were constantly practicing and competing. In my spare time, I was roping dummies and goats. For fun, we had penny-pot matches roping steers on foot. We roped non-stop, and were honing our skills without even realizing it. 

The whole goal was to go win. I saw the guys out there living the life I dreamed of, and knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. When I first started rodeoing, Bret Beach and I hooked up with Jake and Allen Bach as a buddy team. Talk about multitasking to make it all work. We were chartering to jackpots, and it was a non-stop whip-and-spur to get to 120 rodeos a year. We worked time zones back and forth between Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and were going slack to slack, perf to perf and slack after to four or five rodeos a day. 

When I first came in, it was like the best time in the world to rodeo. You didn’t think about sleep. You drove all night again and again and again. At that time in my life, all I wanted to do was rope, compete and see what I could do against the big dogs. 

[READ MORE: Winning When You’re Down]

That took a toll at times. I burned out three times, about every 10 years, and had to step back, re-evaluate and reload. There comes a time in life when you want to add home and family time. But when I look back, I marvel at what I was able to experience, and the blessing of being able to live in a country where you can decide what you’re going to do for a living, and go do it.

As a teacher, I try to give people a plan for where they want to go. In 40 years of doing schools, it’s fun to see guys who were little kids at our schools achieving their goals and roping at the NFR, because they set their goals and followed the plan. TRJ

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