CLAY O’BRIEN COOPER: Communication is key to all successful partnerships
A lot of what we learn about how to communicate is from our environment, how we were raised and the influences in our life. When it comes to communication, it’s a learning curve that you’re engaged in every day of your life. The environment we grow up in shapes and molds who we are, and how we interact and communicate with one another. To make a living team roping, it takes a partner and a strong partnership. So obviously, how you interact with your partner has an effect on your partnership. I remember when I was trying to climb the ranks in partners. When I turned pro I felt like I was on equal ground with my partner, because Bret (Beach) and I came in together. Even though he was older than me, we were basically on equal footing talent-wise. In that regard, he never made me feel intimidated. It’s a factor when you’re partnered with somebody where you feel like you’re under pressure to perform, because he maybe has the upperhand skill-wise. The first time I felt that way was when I roped with Tee Woolman. He had won two championships and I felt under the gun at first, like I needed to live up to the opportunity of roping with such a highcaliber header. But I quickly was able to see that putting myself under that type of pressure wasn’t going to help me rope better. I was just going to have to work hard, compete hard, rise to his level and capitalize on the opportunity.
The next year, in 1985, is when I started roping with Jake (Barnes). When we got together, we were on equal footing. We were so similar in our raising, our thinking, our attitude and our goals. Everything coincided. We both got mounted good, we went on a run and we did dominate. Jake and I had plenty of down times that were hard. I’m the first to say that my communication skills under those conditions were not the best. Jake was better at it than me, because he just went to work with an “I’m going to conquer this, no matter what” attitude and he pulled me up with him. There were times I was burning out when I closed up and didn’t say much. I know that was hard on Jake and hard on our partnership. When you’re winning, communication and getting along good with your partner is easy. But there are times when it’s a grind for every team. There were some years for Jake and I—even when we won championships—when we had to grind it out and earn them. Our good horses only lasted so long, then we battled some of those championships out at the Finals down to the last steer.
Since the first 10 years of my rodeo career, I’ve learned from my mistakes. I did a self-evaluation and took inventory of how I acted and what my attitude was like, and started trying to work on it. From that point forward, my communication with my partners got better. I roped with Jake off and on over the years, and we grew to enjoy everything we did—even when we weren’t winning championships—because I got better at communicating. I’ve had the blessing of having some really awesome partners, and in the latter part of my career I’ve been able to see things from a different perspective and be a partner who can encourage. With some guys I’ve roped with, like Chad Masters, we would really break it down. David Key was the same way. Derrick (Begay) and I don’t really communicate about our roping. We communicate about other things. I just let him go rope, because I think he’s so talented in every situation. I just try to keep up, and if I do my job we’re going to be successful. He’s very locked into the things he does so well. Everybody’s different and how you communicate with them is different. That’s just part of knowing how to best interact with your partner—knowing what needs to be said and what doesn’t. Maybe that’s what they call wisdom. And maybe that comes with the gray hair.
When I roped with Tee I wasn’t mounted as good as I needed to be, and he wasn’t mounted as good as he wanted to be, either. But we were very successful. We went into the 1984 (National) Finals (Rodeo) with a chance to win the championship, but we didn’t dominate. It boiled down to horsepower more than anything.