every stage of our roping career, and at every level of the roping game, we all want to team up with the best possible partner. I’ve roped with so many of the best-ever heelers in my career. Clay (O’Brien Cooper) was obviously my best partner in terms of chemistry, and in terms of success.
The best headers and heelers always try to rope together. But you can’t always put together the best possible teams on paper, because there’s that question about chemistry that can only be answered after you put a team together.
As this issue goes to press, I’m still not sure who I’ll be roping with in 2018. That puts me in the same boat as a lot of people, including recreational ropers and even a few big dogs. There are all kinds of reasons we find ourselves looking for a different partner. It can be because you haven’t been winning enough. Or because of logistics, because one partner has moved.
I roped with Tyler Worley in 2017, and that looked like it would be another match made in Heaven. Because of the ERA rodeos in 2016, I wasn’t qualified for the big winter rodeos. I also had a knee replacement in 2016. Tyler’s a great young talent, but it just seemed like we were always fighting an uphill battle.
We started roping at the spring rodeos in California, and my horsepower was a little weak. It got to the point in the summertime where it looked highly unlikely that we were going to make the Finals, so I went home. Tyler’s a great kid, and I really enjoyed roping with him. But roping is all about economics for me. I was struggling to turn steers fast enough at the one-headers. I’ve got as much try as anyone, but there comes a time when you can’t let stupidity blind you. I’m a realist.
When Clay and I were in our prime, we were both hungry and we shared the same goal of being the best and winning the gold buckle. We lived next door to each other, and practiced night and day. It was like a marriage, and you have to look at it like that.
But nothing lasts forever in team roping. Things change—people, horses, locations, stages of careers, and life. Before Tyler, I roped with Junior Nogueira. I was semiretired with no intentions of going hard when Junior showed up on my door- step. He told me the story of his dad dying when he was 5, and about his dream of coming to America to rope. I took him in like a son, and we started winning right from the get-go. Like Clay and I did all those years ago, Junior and I ate, slept, and breathed roping.
Junior and I made the NFR twice in the two years we roped. Then that horse fell with me when we were practicing for the 2015 NFR, he went on with Kaleb Driggers in 2016, and now they’re an elite team. Back to all the different reasons for changing partners, another one in my career was after I cut my thumb off at the 2005 NFR.
Living in Scottsdale, Ariz., location is hard for partnerships. There just aren’t that many rodeo partners in my area, so I’m contemplating temporarily relocating to Texas to finish out my career. Most of the best guys practice and jackpot together down there, so that’s the place to be.
My partner checklist includes location, work ethic, and horsepower. I want to rope with somebody who wants it like I do. There are times I almost think it’s a curse to be so competitive, like when I cut my thumb off at the NFR trying to hang on to my rope. But my DNA doesn’t have a gear that lets me give 80 percent. I’m built to give it 110 percent, and I have great expectations.