When Derrick Begay and I started roping together three years ago, it was perfect timing for both of us and we had instant success. We had a great winter and a great year. That next year, in 2016, we came back and won The American. We also had a good year in the ERA (Elite Rodeo Athletes). We battled toe to toe right down to the last steer with Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, which was fun, and we won second.
I felt so comfortable roping with Derrick, and our friendship is so much fun. I love his disposition, dry humor, and philosophical look on life and competition. In 2017, my horse LB started getting old and sore, and Derrick’s horses were in the same boat. I ended up retiring LB at the end of last year.
Derrick and I struggled this winter, and were both in search of horses. We had such good conversations about our situation, and he had a lot going on at home. Derrick was so honest about where he’s at with life and priorities. We talked and thought it over, and realized it was time to close that chapter in the book and go to the next one. It breaks my heart to lose that special thing we have, but roping’s only part of it, and Derrick and I will never lose our friendship.
I started thinking about who else I could have success with. I factored in the fact that I live in Nevada, and that I choose not to rodeo 24-7 at this stage of my career. I don’t want to go to Texas in the spring and fall. I was thinking I’d like to have a West Coast guy who’s more geographically compatible.
I like a header who’s aggressive, and there’s nobody more aggressive than Spencer Mitchell. I like that he’s looking to win first every time. Spencer reminds me of Jake Barnes when he and I first started roping. They’re built the same, they ride a horse similarly, and Jake wanted to win first every single time we backed in the box. Anyone old enough to have known Jake in his 20s and 30s sees the similarities.
Some people might think it’s an odd pairing, but I’ve been buddies with Spank for quite a while. I’ve built relationships with those kids coming up. We visit and hang out at the ropings. I’ve always liked Spencer, and I like how aggressive he is. I’ve told him there will be times I want to skip a week here or there. He said he was fine with that, so we decided to see what happens.
Our first rodeo was Oakdale (California) in April. I rodeoed for a long time before I ever won Oakdale. I won it 15 years ago, in 2003, with David Key. It was fun to win it a second time this spring with Spank. There’s so much history in Oakdale—home of the Camarillos, Ace Berry, and so many other NFR qualifiers and world champions over the years, including Ted Ashworth and Harley May. Oakdale is also traditionally the first rodeo where we come back outdoors, and rope hard-running steers going 9-0 after both guys come from the right side. Oakdale’s got nostalgia written all over it.
I was just happy to be at Oakdale. It was beautiful, and besides my new partner I also have a new gray horse, Maximus, who’s 13. Oakdale is hard to win unless you draw right. Out of 70-some steers there this year, the majority of them hauled butt. We drew two honest steers right down the middle of the herd, we were 6.9 and 7 flat, and basically made two identical runs. Spencer pinged the barrier, reached a coil on the way in and was aggressive with his shots, kept them moving in the turn so they kept their timing good, I got in a good spot, and heeled them. Part of the reason we do this is because it’s a blast. And it’s always way more fun when you win.