What it Takes to Make It with Clay O’Brien Cooper
Cooper on being willing to work harder than everyone else.

What does it take to make it in today’s world? Whether you’re talking about team roping—or any business, for that matter—I think the answer is basically the same. When asked that all the time by aspiring team ropers, my answer is always the same: To get the job done, you have to be willing to work harder than everyone else.

When you find something that you love to do—in my case, I’ve loved to rope since I was a little kid, but other people have other passions—you have to pull out all the stops and do everything possible to get where you’re wanting to go. I made the choice when I was 9 or 10 years old that I was going to be like my heroes, and live this cowboy life. That love for roping was a constant magnet.

Learning what I needed to do to make it came in stepping stones. You practice to get good in the first place. And being around the best in your field or business is a big advantage, so you can see how it’s done at the highest level. Being with people who share the same goals and dreams is very helpful as you climb the ladder.

You then have to come up with the means by any way possible to get what you need to make it work, including horses, cattle, a place to rope and the best possible partner. Back when Jake (Barnes) and I were pursuing our goals of winning world championships, we set out to practice harder than anyone. We learned that from the guys ahead of us—the Camarillos and other champions of that day. We were determined to rope so many steers that we could do it in our sleep. We were willing to do whatever it took to get it done.

I remember spending every dime I had to buy that first horse I knew I needed, because he was the missing link to making it happen. It’s that willingness to sacrifice everything you have to make it work. We didn’t luck into anything. We battled our way to the top.

I look at the kids today, and it’s the same way. The top guys out here having the most success are the ones who geared all their efforts and energy toward climbing each step it takes to get better and try to rise to the top of their field. The thing about today is that there are more people willing to do that. They learned from us, like we learned from the guys who came before us.

They’ve learned that to be really successful at what you do it’s a total sacrifice—in anything you do—whether it’s starting a business or roping for a living. To be the best, you have to have that never-turn-back mentality. It’s fun at times, but also very challenging. I see kids going at that same goal today, and trying to connect the dots and put the pieces together.

To make it out here you have to be good at analyzing horses, entering, traveling and taking care of your horses, equipment and bank account. It’s a 24-7 job that never ends, and having a network of people who believe in you and support what you’re doing helps, too.

You finish one year off and end up in a certain destination, then immediately set new goals and go again. It just keeps turning over. It’s the American dream. Where else can you do that? Only in America can you find the kind of environment that allows you to pursue whatever you want to do in life. If you have the will, determination and mindset to not give up, you can make it happen.

No matter what we decide to do in life, most of us want to try to be the best. Roping for a living is one of the hardest careers you can choose. It’s scratch and claw and fight all the time. I sometimes wish my passion had been building skyscrapers. If I’d applied the same principles that I did to my roping career, I’d be a multi-millionaire. But the rodeo life and the freedom caught my eye. And sometimes our passions pick us. 

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