In all the years I’ve been rodeoing I’ve learned there are certain things you need to have to be a professional roper. There’s a lot of wear and tear on your body, and that takes a toll on you sooner or later. Your body starts telling you it hurts about the time you hit 50, so the more you can do in the early going to prevent that, the better. I know if I had the equipment they have now back when I started, I’d have done it differently. One improvement I’ve made in recent times is that I now use a freestyle hot walker instead of all the miles I used to put on my horses myself. It’s not a regular hot walker. Mine’s been converted to where a horse moves at a fast walk, in a 6’ wide by 15’ long pen that rotates around that the horse has to keep up with. I wish I was 19 years old, with the technology people have nowadays. My horses walk in that hot walker for about an hour while I work the arena before I rope. The ones with the most energy go in the hot walker last, right before I rope.
You need to have a video camera. Videoing all of your practices, coming in at night and studying all of your runs is a must. Being able to study your jackpot and rodeo runs is so helpful, because you don’t want to rely on how everybody else saw your run. Sometimes your buddies will sugarcoat things because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the video doesn’t lie.
You need to have your own arena so you can practice at your own pace. That way, you don’t have to practice on someone else’s time frame. The practice pen should be your training lab. If you need to score 20, you can, because you have the luxury of getting to make your own choices. It’s costly to have your own arena, between the land, cattle, feed and a tractor. It’s a huge investment, but it’s part of making a living roping.
You need to have a great horse. A guy made a comment one time that I agree with. He was talking about how you can get wrapped up in the glitter of professional rodeo and all the fancy rigs, and saying how sometimes young guys think that’s what it takes to be a professional cowboy. He said, “It’s not what you pull your horse in with, it’s what backs out of the trailer that counts.” If you have an outstanding horse and you’ve got talent, you’re going to win. Don’t get wrapped up in the rest of it. You can get under water fast with big payments. If the luxuries of the business are important to you, only get them as you can afford them. I admire people who don’t live beyond their means. They’re smarter than the others who get sucked in.
You have to pencil it all out financially. Your arena, rig, horses, entry fees and fuel are all major costs. If you’re really going to rope for a living, you have to factor all that stuff in and still be operating in the black. I’ve taught roping schools, and bought and sold horses to make it all work. Sponsorships are a big factor, too.
I don’t like to practice with a group of guys. I like to practice one on one, with just me and a heeler. I use an air-compressed Priefert score chute, because it’s a time saver and you don’t have to open and close the front gate. It’s operated off of a remote control, so it’s easy. No one’s ever mastered the art of scoring. There are several cues that make a horse move in the corner, and noise is one of them. You can rattle the back gate with this chute. And with the new one, the steer has his head in a lock, so you can open the front gate and the steer can’t go anywhere. The idea’s been around for years, but this is new technology that takes training to another level. This is a great aid to teach a horse that his signal to go is paying attention to the steer and to the tension you have on the bridle reins.
One of the most important things of all if you’re going to rope for a living is you need a good helper. They call them drivers, and it’s a thankless job that doesn’t pay very well. The all-night drives are hard on you. Your driver’s the guy who takes the late-night shift so you can rest. When you have two rigs out there over the Fourth of July he stays with the horses and keeps them fed, watered and exercised while you’re at another rodeo, then picks you up at the airport. It’s most important to have that kind of help from about July to September, when things are the most hectic.