I had some success in high school rodeo, but nothing like you would think a world champion would have had at that time. I competed all four years of high school, and I made it to the national high school finals once. I won the state championship – I was the number-one – never. Never in the tie-down roping.

So basically, it’s really easy to try to look to your right and your left and behind you and find out who’s dominant and think that’s who is going to be successful, because he’s so much better. To think that guy, because he’s so much better than everyone else right now, that he’s the only one who’s going to make it in professional rodeo.

It’s also important to remember that high school and professional rodeo are completely different. Everybody has a different maturation process. I came into my own a lot later than a lot of people. I couldn’t excel in calf roping in high school. Most of my growing happened between high school and college. In certain events, the physical aspect really plays in. Everybody is maturing at a different time. Just because you may be behind as a junior or senior doesn’t set the course for your professional career – unless you set your own limits.

Something else to remember is that you’re going to keep maturing. A lot of other kids who look dominant will just get comfortable because it came so easy so fast. They will get complacent. On the other hand, if you keep your head down and learn from your mistakes and use those lumps for lessons, you will be the kid who discovers how to get through hard times. And that is definitely one of the things you have to know in professional rodeo.

Horsemanship is one thing I feel like has been a strength in my career, and it’s a constantly evolving process. It seems like you never quit learning. Each horse teaches you something different in a certain area, like patience. Being a great horseman means being a problem-solver in general. You learn to adapt and get the most out of each
animal partner. That’s the biggest thing, is learning how to get the most out of each horse. And that something might be different in each horse. Basically, you should want the horse you ride to be better with you than he is with anybody else. That’s what I strive for.

If you need help, I personally have gotten help from AQHA trainers, because they instill the right procedures in horses. If a young horse never has a solid blueprint, there’s never anything to go back to. I tell people that about roping, too. You have to have a good foundation and know the right fundamentals whether you’re roping or with horsemanship. There are a few key fundamentals like leg and hand signals that you need to know so that you can x a horse on the y and have good communication with them in the middle of a run. Horsemanship is one process I think a lot of people try to cheat; they rope the dummy a lot and work on mental preparation alone.

I really believe horsemanship is an important aspect of rodeo success that often gets overlooked or cheated, if you will. It’s a slower process; it takes longer to learn horsemanship because of the little subtle things that you have to be horseback a lot to really learn. It’s not just about making dust in the arena on horses. It’s about trying to learn from trainers and real horsemen. It’s not quite a “dying” art but it’s hard to find people that you can really learn from. I suggest offering to clean stalls or open chutes or whatever it takes to be around the people who can teach you those things. That’s what I did.