Everybody’s motives are different. For me, roping was just something I always loved to do. It’s basically been a lifelong addiction for me. When I was out there roping the dummy as a young kid, I had no way of knowing I’d do this for a living so long. Fifty years later, I’m still roping and I still love it. I don’t compete that much anymore, but in my mind I’m still that kid trying to get better every day.
I’m pretty sure the only way that’ll ever change is if I get to where I can no longer catch. But I’m still a #9 header, and that’s what I want to be and should be. All I do every day is rope, so I don’t want to be a lower number.
We all rope for different reasons. Not all ropers are all or nothing, like me. I’ve known doctors, lawyers and professional athletes from other sports who wanted to live the cowboy life. They had more money than me, and some had played on much bigger stages than me, but they all wanted to do what I’ve gotten to do my whole life.
A lot of people who follow basketball name their kids Michael after Michael Jordan. It’s been pretty cool to see a lot of families in the rodeo industry name their kids Jake and Clay over the years. People have always told Clay and I that they pretended to be us in the practice pen growing up. That’s special to us. But to each his own when it comes to why we rope.
Roping is fun, and it really is addicting. A lot of people have tried to quit. Some sell their horses and get a job while they raise their families. But once you’ve gotten a taste of being a team roper and being competitive, it’s tough not to go back.
We all rope for different reasons, and most people don’t rope for a living. There is so much camaraderie and socializing in team roping. The majority of team ropers do it as a hobby—including guys who used to be bucking horse and bull riders—and that’s great. The beauty of the numbering system is that it gives everyone a chance to be competitive. And roping might be even better than golfing when it comes to socializing activities.
Plenty of people just rope for fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not everybody likes to go fishing or hunting. If you’ve ever been a rancher or a farmer, team roping is also a good way to stay in a circle of your kind of people.
The competitor in me can’t help but mention all of the opportunity available to lower-numbered ropers today. I tell people to work hard and capitalize, because there are those who win $300,000 at the World Series Finale in Vegas every year.
The price of horses, cattle, trucks and trailers is at an all-time high, but so are the chances to win. It’s higher-stakes gambling, but team roping is huge now. People all over the country take their paychecks to casinos. Roping’s a lot more fun, and the harder you work, the better your odds of winning. That said, we all need to rope responsibly and within our means.
I’ve always told young people to get a good education, which I did not do. I was infatuated with one thing and one thing only—roping. But in life and everything you do, you better have a Plan B. If you do set out to rope for a living—which is a huge sacrifice and commitment—and it doesn’t work out for any reason, you need more options. On the other hand, if you don’t follow your dreams, you’ll always wonder what-if?
Professional rodeo is a hard life, and the reality of it isn’t always very pretty. Sometimes our friends with jobs that come with a paycheck on Friday look pretty lucky to the guys burning up and down the rodeo road.
Winning seven world championships was great, but the saving grace for me in the long haul was the doors my rodeo career opened for me. There are perks and payoffs to making it big, and in my case, that’s been roping schools and selling horses. As I look back on my career, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Roping was just something I loved, and I still love it today. TRJ