When I was a kid, I was fortunate to get to work in the motion-picture business for a few years starting when I was 10. I was able to save up a little nest egg of funds from those five years of working, which allowed me to buy a pickup when I turned 16. At that time, a single-cab, three-quarter ton GMC automatic pickup cost $6,000. I bought a used Stidham two-horse trailer to pull behind it, and a little Dolphin half-shell, slide-in camper. I was rodeo ready.
The camper was just a closet for my clothes and a bed for me to sleep in. It wasn’t a cab-over with tons of room, but it had a floor in it and took care of my basic needs. I had known since I was nine or 10 years old that I wanted to travel the road and be like my heroes going to ropings and rodeos. My dream was to live the life of a team roper and make a living doing it. I learned how to balance my checkbook young, because paying attention to my bank account was the only way I could keep going.
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By the time I was 13-14-15 years old, I got to where I could hold my own financially at the arenas in Southern California, where I grew up. People like Danny Costa and Tom Abshire packed me around, and I got to where I could catch two feet and manage my own money. With the money I won, I tried to trade around and get more horses and better horses.
When I turned 16, I went to Arizona and stayed. The ropings were good, I hooked up with Bret Beach and we became a top-notch jackpot team. Bret was just sharp on that heading side, and he had an awesome sorrel horse he called Zinger. We’d go to all the big ropings in California at that time—the Chowchilla Stampede, Doc Lane Falk’s Roping, the Oakdale 10 Steer and Riverside Rancheros Roping, and all the big jackpots in Arizona and New Mexico, too. We were winning, so I used part of my little nest egg for a down payment on my first place in Gilbert, Arizona.
From the get-go—when I was 13 years old—I was managing my own money. I was determined to make it work, and that teaches you pretty fast which corners you can and can’t cut. During those jackpot and amateur-rodeo years, I traveled with Shawn Howell in California, and Bret and George Aros in Arizona and New Mexico. We split the cost of fuel and shared hotel rooms.
Those first seven or eight years—even after we turned pro—we all traveled together. It was mostly motels for us back then, and we slept four to a room with two to a bed. That’s how we minimized expenses before living-quarters trailers. The first year Bret and I turned pro, we buddied with Mark and Jay Simon, and rodeoed out of a single-cab pickup. That was just survival mode and what it took to stay hooked.
Bret and I made the Finals a couple years, and won the BFI in 1982. We were just getting better and starting to win more. About that time, Capri campers came into the mix and we didn’t have to buy a room anymore. As things progressed in the early 90s, you started seeing goosenecks, then living-quarters trailers. Of course that also meant needing a dually pickup to pull them.
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The living-quarters trailers were a bigger investment, along with the need for bigger trucks. When a wife and kids enter the mix, expanding the way you travel is a necessity. There comes a point when you’re just done sleeping with another guy in the bed, and I was making enough money roping that I didn’t have to do that anymore. The ultimate luxury is taking your own rig, which gives you more privacy. It’s more expensive, but has been proven to help a lot of partnerships.
Nowadays, the most successful team ropers in the world—and the recreational ropers who work all week and can afford it—have their own rigs. The biggest costs to being a rodeo star or successful roper at any level are your rig and your horses, followed by fuel and entry fees. Increased opportunities available to all ropers have managed to outrun the cost of doing business, because it is possible to win more than you spend. Live within your means and enjoy the ride.