NEVER STOP RAISING THE BAR
matter our age or skill level, we all strive to succeed as ropers. Thinking back on my never-ending quest to always improve takes me back to the beginning, when I was a kid.
Naturally, we didn’t have all the resources back then that are available to kids today, which range from roping schools, to videos and magazines like this one. From when I first started roping, I learned more than anything by watching other ropers. I’ve always been fascinated with all the different styles people use to win—both heading and heeling.
I studied the styles of the best in the business, and when I roped the dummy in the front room of our house as a kid I ran pretend teams—Reg and Leo (Camarillo), H.P. (Evetts) and Jerold (Camarillo), Doyle (Gellerman) and Walt (Woodard), and also local guys in my area, like Larry Goss and Gary Mouw, Kim Burke and Don Beasley.
I was about 7 years old when I started mimicking the styles of successful ropers, and started doing it roping the dummy in the house at night like that. I took a pillow, a rope and our family boot jack, and tied that to the top of a chair. I’d start from across the room, pretending to back in the box. I’d then run across the room, head the “horns” on that boot jack, and on the way back across the room to the box would heel myself, as I hopped like the stride of a steer. That’s when I started figuring out timing.
I tried to mimic the best guys’ swing angles and timing styles in the house, and kept at it when I started competing. I was trying to pick the best-feeling styles that worked, and the result was developing my own method, which was basically a blend of the top ropers at that time. The things I borrowed from them that worked for me were at the base of my roping evolution, and it’s a process I still use today.
Through the years, I’ve continued to watch the people I’ve considered to be the best ropers. I take what I see them do to be successful, then test it at home and see if any of it works for me. You never know when one new little tweak or twist might make you just that much better.
In addition to trying what I see other ropers do, I sometimes have random, out-of-the-box ideas pop into my head. I try those, too. There are so many moving parts to roping—your riding, how your horse works, how you set up your corner, your swing angles, your timing and different loop angles, to name a few.
There are so many successful styles that it’s sometimes like a big jigsaw puzzle. You take an idea from over here and put it with one from over there. I think of my roping style as an accumulation of a lot of different parts. It’s amazing how many different ideas can pop into your head that you’ve never thought of, seen or tried before—even when you’ve been roping more than 50 years, like I have.
I retired my bay horse, L.B., at 20 in December, and I’ve been using this same process the last few months as I learn how to best ride a new horse I’ve been roping on. He reminds me of a couple horses I used to have that I did well on, and he’s kind of a combination of them. So I think back on what style I was using that made me successful on those horses, and make adjustments to suit this new one.
It won’t work to try and transform this new horse into L.B. So I’m basically looking back at that library of past successes, and pulling out bits and pieces to try on this horse.
My dream stemmed from the ropers who came before me living their dream. For me, learning started with a dream of wanting to be like my heroes. That started a fanatical perspective of possibility, and the goal of trying to achieve that dream. I can’t thank all my cowboy heroes enough for building the dream in me that has been the basis of a fun life.
I take what I see them do to be successful, then test it at home and see if any of it works for me. You never know when one new little tweak or twist might make you just that much better.