Why is it that some people win more than others? In my opinion, there’s no substitute for hard work, so it all starts with work ethic. The people who work the hardest are going to get the biggest piece of the pie, because they deserve it. But that’s not the only thing that separates the ropers who win the most from the rest. In my opinion, there are a number of traits people who win a lot at every level of the game share.
Another thing that defines competitors in a constant quest to stay at the top in our sport is the ability to ride and maintain good horses. There are peaks and valleys for everyone in every sport, but I’ve always said that us team ropers are only as good as the horses we ride. You have to have talent and work hard, but not even the most talented and hardest working ropers in the world can win on a donkey.
There have been a number of notable human-horse partnerships over the years—Charles Pogue and Scooter, Steve Purcella and Butterbean, Speedy Williams and Viper and Bob, Clay Tryan and Thumper, Travis Tryan and Walt, Clay (O’Brien Cooper) and Ike, and Bullwinkle and myself, to name a few—that people still talk about.
The guys who’ve owned the great ones give those horses all the credit, because they know what they mean to their success—and how much they missed them when that ride was over. It’s blood, guts and tears to try and keep winning without them, which is why people take better care of their team roping horses today than ever before. We’ve all learned to appreciate what that diamond is worth.
Back to the critically important work-ethic factor, we’ve all heard the expression “you’re trying too hard.” I never believed that or bought into it. Whenever I struggled throughout my career, I always thought it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I wanted to raise our family on roping earnings then retire with something to show for it, and I knew that was only possible for the very best guys who outwork everybody else and make no excuses.
To be one of the top guys and a world-class roper, you’re basically fighting the elements all the time. And some of it—when you draw up, which steer you draw and whether you get a first run or a rerun included—is beyond your control. It’s very hard to stay at the top of the food chain year after year, I don’t care who you are. You have to fight those suckers off like mosquitos, start to finish, and sooner or later the younger guys pass you by.
And there’s a lot more to that mental component of roping and winning. Even the best teams don’t win 50 percent of the time, so you’re up and down all the time. Two people depending on each other to feed their families adds a lot of stress, too, and also explains why so many guys come and go all the time.
We all get beat down so much, and that’s really tough to take in the long run. Most people get tired of getting back up and brushing themselves off again, which explains why guys like Clay, Allen Bach, Walt Woodard, Tee Woolman and myself, who stick around for decades, will likely become more and more rare. The wear and tear on your body and mind is not easy.
Talent. Hard work. Good horses. Mental toughness. It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together, and if there’s one piece missing it won’t be quite complete. The X factor to it all is that even after doing everything you can possibly do to give yourself the best chance of winning, a guy still needs to get a few breaks here and there, because at the end of the day lady luck has a say in the final outcome.
I’d hate to be in my prime right now, because it really is such a jungle out there. When you love it, you wouldn’t trade this life for anything. But at the rodeo in Bremerton, Washington, the other day, 3.4 won it and 4.3 split 10. Are you kidding me? My goodness, that’s insane. It’s beyond anyone’s wildest imagination how much our sport has progressed. It’s good watching, but as tough as team roping is today I have to say I’m thankful to be in the two-minute warning stage of my game and not just getting started.