Breaking it Down – August 2021
When I was growing up, and about 14 or 15 years old, my mom would allow me to go to rodeos as long as I was home Monday morning by 8 a.m. to go to school. I had a partner named Darrell Solly and I would buy the meals and he would drive. We would go wherever we could that I could make it back in time for school Monday.
Back then I was a heeler and it was what I loved to do. I sometimes have to remind myself that back then, as a heeler, I was not all about preparation because the score and the steer’s history didn’t really matter. My job was to rope him by two feet once he turned. It wasn’t until I was 20 and made the NFR in 1988 that I looked at it differently. I was roping the dummy with all the headers at the NFR. Most of them were from the west coast where the scores were long and they didn’t have much experience in small buildings. The NFR had only been at the Thomas & Mack a few years. I felt I could do more with my head rope and have some success.
I came home from that NFR and told my dad I wanted to head. He looked like a deer in the headlights and said, “Son, do you know how much time and money we have invested in you becoming a heeler?” It took some convincing, but he finally agreed and the rest is history.
I have been retired from rodeo for quite a few years and have no interest in the long hours of driving and competing. I am very fortunate that a lot of people book lessons with me where I am able to stay home with my kids and teach other people what I love to do.
I have told Gabe for quite some time that when he got moved to a #8 heeler, I would give him the green light to go some amateur rodeos. The Global number system notified him last week they were moving him to a #7+ heeler. We were driving down the road and I told him I had something to tell him but I was having trouble getting it out. He said, “What?” I told him, “Well since your mom and sister are in Shawnee at the IFYR… you and I could go rope at the Cowtown rodeo in Ft. Worth this weekend.” He was so happy. For a whole week he was excited and I could do no wrong.
On the Thursday prior, he won the #14 WSTR Qualifier in Stephenville, so I said, “Let’s enter.” We had some clients staying at the house for a school, so we found everyone partners and entered. Nicky Northcott couldn’t make it Friday night so I ended up heeling one for Rowdy and roped a leg. The steer was a little tricky and I felt a little better after watching the video.
The first night I missed for Gabe. I was throwing early and the steer changed directions. It truly bothered me that I missed for my son at his first official rodeo for him to have a chance to win something. But the next day, as my wife and I were having lunch, I realized how truly blessed I am to do this with him. I’ve had quite a few injuries in the last few years and there have been times when I wasn’t sure I would get to have this experience with him. At his age we could easily be going to baseball games or something else.. but here we are. Doing what I love and he loves it too.
The second night I backed off the barrier and was taking my second swing as I was coming across the line. Nicky and I were 4.1 and won the rodeo. Gabe and I were 4.3 plus 5. We had the same tricky steer Rowdy and I had. When you’re rodeoing so many things happen so fast. It’s reactionary and your practice and preparation have to take over. You know what you can and can’t do.
Besides the American, I haven’t competed much lately because in addition to being injured, I know it comes down to preparation and working extremely hard at eliminating mistakes. Now it’s more about teaching my son the things he needs to do at the rodeo to give himself a better chance. What time to arrive, finding out your stock, watching the steers. I hope with all my hours, miles and experience I am able to save him from making some of the mistakes I’ve made. I have a feeling that the Ft. Worth rodeo might become a regular occurrence if my son has his way.
I feel very blessed that both of my kids love to rope and are eager to get better. We do that by utilizing video. We video everything and then watch it in slow motion where we can see all the little things that go wrong. In my opinion, it’s the only way to get better. The video doesn’t lie and no matter how many times you watch it, it shows the same thing every time.
Next year will be full of new adventures for our family. Hali turns 18 this December and is looking forward to the Breakaway tour. Gabe will be going to amateur rodeos. We will be focusing on preparing them for things that will happen while they are away from home. Like dealing with the mental highs and lows. It’s essential to understand the mental game. How well you control your mind will determine whether you make it easy or difficult on yourself.