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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.

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