Jake (Barnes) and I had a pretty good winter, really. We won quite a bit, so we both chose to head home for a while. I've been sticking around home in Texas, and he's been staying around Arizona the last couple months. I've gone to a few little rodeos with Kevin Stewart, and Jake's been out West roping with Kyon Sayer. We've been spending some family time and also using that time to prepare for the summer run; to get our horses and ourselves ready for the big push. Week after week is big rodeo after big rodeo this time of year. We need to win another $20,000 or so to secure a spot at the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo). The last few years right around $50,000 has been the cut, give or take. I've been practicing every day, alternating roping my Heel-O-Matic and roping steers. It seems to work better for me to rope my Heel-O-Matic two or three days a week and practice a couple days a week behind one of the big-dog spinners. It keeps my horses from getting sore and dreading runs. If I just hammer on them every day roping live cattle it's too much. So I alternate back and forth. When I rope the Heel-O-Matic, they work in a pattern and get exercise, but they don't mentally or physically stress like they do running live steers, where they're running hard, turning hard, stopping hard and taking jerks. I like to integrate the two to stay sharp.
I like to make real runs, especially behind a good header with good horses who's making things happen, because that's what we're always doing for money.
I watch and study all the guys I rope against-the guys I admire who are roping really sharp. I keep an eye on them and experiment with some of the stuff I see them doing. I try this and that, and tweak a little here and there.
I have some relatively young horses. I have three 7-years-olds, a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old. The horse I rode last year, Jazz, is really solid now. He's the top dog, so he doesn't get heavy workouts. I just keep him in shape. I rope on him like I used to with Ike. He gets special treatment, because he's the main man. I'm always working on something with the others to get them seasoned and solid. I have to take one of them for my second horse for the summer, so we've been working on that.
Jake and I have buddied with David (Key) and Kory (Koontz) the last few years. Part of our preparation is mapping out where we want to go or deciding if there are rodeos we want to eliminate. We pick our runs starting with the Fourth of July. That next week or so, which includes Cheyenne (Wyo.), Salt Lake (City), Nampa (Idaho), Ogden (Utah), Salinas (Calif.) and Spanish Fork (Utah) is a tough one. It's a big-money week, but there are some hooks to it that can involve chartering planes and 30-hour drives that beat you to a pulp and gut your horses. We typically send a set of horses to Salinas and another rig to Cheyenne, but aren't sure we're going to try to do both this year. Those are the decisions you have to make. Planning is part of the preparation.
I have a wedding to go to August 16 in Eagle Butte, S.D., during the first (Wrangler ProRodeo) Tour finale in Caldwell (Idaho), so I'll miss that. (Clay's daughter Bailey is marrying Cal Peterson.) It's not just us and it's not just rodeos. There's more to life, like family, and there's a lot to juggle. The other kids (Quinn and Jessica) start back to school in August, in the middle of all our rodeos. We need to plan which weeks (Clay's wife) Alisa can come join me. Quinn and Jessica are starting driver's ed in June, so Alisa needs to be home more this summer. That puts a little more strain on things.
Looking from the outside in, people think we live the fantasy life just cruising around the country getting to rope. But if you've never rodeoed full time you don't really understand that it's a 24/7 atmosphere. There's always something to do between the horses, rigs, entering, making flights, getting drivers, planning where to stay, deciding which rodeos to go to and juggling family. It's not easy, and there's a lot to it. A lot of times the wives behind the scenes are the ones who make the most sacrifices. To do it right and have all your ducks in a row-to be your best in every aspect of the game-you have to take care of your business. If it doesn't work and you haven't prepared then there's no excuse. The guy who's most prepared, mounted the best and takes care of his business the best is usually going to have the edge.