We all tend to go into new partnerships with the hope and even expectation that it’ll last.
But sooner or later, all teams go through struggles. There are all kinds of reasons teams experience tough times and tension with so many variables—including roping styles, personalities and horses—involved in our event. But the #1 reason teams consider doing something different is when they quit winning. You can overlook a lot of little things when you’re winning, and when you’re winning nothing else much matters.
That’s what we’re all out here for—to win. So if there’s a crack in the armor that’s keeping you from getting that done it’s going to be exposed pretty fast. As just one example, if you don’t feel like both partners are putting out an equal, all-in effort, that’s going to frustrate you a lot more if you aren’t winning than if you are. I like roping with a guy who has good horses, is not going to crack under pressure and has a work ethic as good as mine, which takes a lot. If I’m not winning, it’s not going to be because I’m being outworked.
Sooner or later, every team that’s struggling faces a crossroads decision between basically sucking it up and sticking it out, or cutting your losses and moving on. For me, a lot of the decision has always had to do with the team’s horses and making sure they’re good enough to win on.
At times in our long-term partnership, Clay (O’Brien Cooper) and I were burning the candle at both ends. We were going to 100 rodeos, doing a bunch of roping schools and still trying to do right by our families. It’s so expensive to go up and down the road, and after you have a mortgage there’s a lot more pressure to win.
If you stick it out long enough, there will be times for every team when it feels like the deck is stacked against you. You know you and your partner are capable of winning, but you keep drawing bad steers, you can’t keep your horses working and you just can’t make the tide turn back in your favor.
We’ve almost all cut and run from a partnership at some point in our roping careers, and I’m not sure anyone’s ever really mastered the perfect long-term partnership. I’ve gotten to rope with about all the best heelers of all time—including Clay, Leo Camarillo, Walt Woodard, Allen Bach and Rich Skelton—and I had success with all of them. But for whatever reason, something clicked with Clay and I almost like we’re brothers. We’ve never been just another team.
I’m roping with Clay again now, and we’re having a lot of fun with the roping schools. There’s no second-guessing anything we do. When we make a run—for money or practicing—I know exactly where Clay’s going to be and when he’s going to throw. That comes from practicing so hard and making so many runs together over the years. You get out of it what you put into it, and it takes commitment to build a good long-term team.
Whether to stay or go depends on your motivation and what you’re trying to accomplish. With Clay and I, the goal was always to win the world championship. Every time I go into a new partnership, I think it’s important to communicate openly, and discuss the plan and goals. Don’t keep secrets from your partner. If you think our team needs a new head horse, say so. We’re in this together.
Being on a team really is a lot like being in a marriage. Everybody goes through some struggles. It’s easy to get frustrated and mad, and go do something different. But you’re eventually going to face the same problems with the new partner, too. Talk about it. Listen. Try not to take things too personally, and to look at issues matter of factly, because team roping partnerships are business. And if you can’t figure out a way to make it work, you might need to look into a different job or a new hobby.