Any time you can pile on ten thousand in a week, it’s big. And yet...
I drew the best calf at Ponoka. That was the worst part about it.
This was last Monday, July 2nd, and I was back in Ponoka, Alberta, for the short round. I was sitting fifth in a really tough roping. It was one of those short rounds you enjoy being a part of. The times were tight from twelfth to first. Whoever roped the best that day was gonna win. That excites me more than anything at this point in my career. I still love to have what I call a roping contest, when everybody’s tight. You come back, and your tenth-place guy has a chance to win the top three holes. Those kind of ropings bring out the best in me and everybody else. It’s also good for the fans. It’s good watching.
At Ponoka, you’re roping for the round and the average. But they also take the top four guys for a shootout that pays seventy-five hundred for first. Everybody wants to win big rodeos. Everybody wants to win Ponoka.
I got my draw an hour-and-a-half before the roping. I called my buddy Clint Robinson, who had seen the calf run a few days earlier.
“That’s the best calf at Ponoka,” Clint said. He’s just real average. He steps to the right. “You should tie that calf in a short seven and win the round and the average.”
When you’re twenty-one or twenty-two years old and roping at the short round at Ponoka for the first time, and you know you have the best calf, that might foul you up mentally. It might make you nervous. You might overthink things. But at thirty-five, I was licking my chops just ready to freaking run her.
It never crossed my mind that I wasn’t going to get the buckle that day. That was just my approach. I’m after it like everybody else. And when you draw the right calf, that’s when the opportunity presents itself to win a big rodeo.
Why not me?
I backed into the box. I blew the barrier out just like everybody else had. That’s what it takes to win anymore. You’ve got to be as close to the barrier as possible without breaking it. I caught up to my calf as fast as anybody, I thought. And then I missed.
It was such a disappointment. The start I took, the throw I took, my body position. I was supposed to rope that calf around the neck, and I still can’t figure out what caused me to miss. That never happens to me. Ten out of ten times when I miss one, I process it immediately. I feel it as it’s happening. I understand what went wrong. But at Ponoka, still to this day, I have no idea why that rope didn’t go around that calf’s neck. I looked at it frame by frame in the video. I don’t know if the calf slowed down a bit in the middle of my delivery, but the bottom strand of my loop just went in front of her face. We’re talking less than inches for who knows how much money. Maybe ten or fifteen thousand?
Those kind right there will haunt you.
I ended up winning tenth in the average for six-hundred-and-ninety-five dollars, plus the eight-fifty I won in the second round. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. I can make a lot of excuses. I can sit here and wonder why my rope didn’t go around her neck, but it just didn’t. Sometimes I just think it’s not your turn. God’s got a plan. You just gotta stick it out.
The next day, I went right back down to Greeley, where I was splitting eleventh and twelfth in the short round. Back when I was planning and entering for the Fourth (read “Getting’ After It”), I talked about how short rounds can force you to make hard decisions. And how if you’re coming back at the bottom, the choice gets even harder. I got put in that position coming back to Greeley.
I asked myself, What is the best-case scenario to win the most money? I felt like coming back eleventh at Greeley, if a guy got out winning twenty-five hundred, that would be a pretty good day. I heard the calves were not very good at Prescott, where I was entered that day, so I decided to turn out of Prescott. Between the short rounds at Ponoka and Greeley, I turned out of four rodeos—Red lodge, Montana; Prescott, Arizona; Williams Lake, Alberta; and Molalla, Oregon.
At Greeley, Shane Hanchey and I were tied coming in. We both roped on my horse Floyd (read “Riding Floyd”). We both drew good calves. I blew out the barrier. My calf stepped right. I roped her around the neck. I did everything right. But sometimes the calf will let up, and when you’re riding a good horse and they let up, they’ll move up underneath your slack. A good go is when your calf ends up straight on the end of your rope. This was a weird go. My calf was laying on her side, her feet towards me, scrambling around trying to get up. When that happens, there’s no forgiveness. You just gotta go down and clean the mess up. I tied her in 10.2.
Shane blew the barrier out on Floyd. His calf stepped right and opened the door for him to turn the calf around, and as good as that guy ropes, it was game over. He threw his hands up in 8.1.
Shane split first in the round and won third in the average, adding nearly six thousand to his winnings. I won sixth in the round and sixth in the average for just under twenty-five hundred. My calculations had been dead on.
“You Can Ride Mine”
The goal of Cowboy Christmas is to win as much as you can. But it’s so much more than that. One of my best memories from this year came from Dickinson, North Dakota. That was the little rodeo me and Stetson entered on June 30th after we had to turn out of Pecos to make Ponoka.
We drove eight-hundred miles from Ponoka to Dickinson. I didn’t want to bring my horse from Ponoka, because I had made the Ponoka short round. So I was planning on riding a horse I had sold to another roper this past winter. When we got to Dickinson, it was beyond muddy. The conditions were terrible. The guy who bought my horse called.
“Man, I’m not going to rope,” he said.
“Absolutely,” I told him. “I don’t blame you. I would never have asked to ride your horse in this mud.”
It’s kind of a cowboy code. You just don’t ask anybody to ride in the mud. I didn’t think the conditions were necessarily dangerous, but you never know what can happen in the mud. You can pull shoes off. The horse can slip. Besides, you’re going to get everything muddy. If you’re a respectful person, and you care about other people’s stuff, you don’t ask to ride in the mud.
I was fixing to turn out. I didn’t have a choice. I walked over to look at the calves and bumped into this kid from Utah named Cy Eames.
“What calf did you draw?” he asked.
“Man, I got that number ninety-four right there.”
“That calf looks good,” he said.
“Yeah, he looks way too good to watch loping down the arena,” I said.
“Why’s he going to lope down the arena?”
“I don’t have nothing to ride, and I’m not asking anybody to get on in the mud,” I told him.
He looked at me, without batting an eye. “You can ride mine,” he said.
“Are you serious?” I asked. “Have you seen the arena?”
“Yeah. I don’t care.”
“I’m going to take a closer look,” I said. “I want you to think this over.”
I tucked my pants in my boots and walked into the arena. It was muddy but manageable.
Long story short, I won first and added another twenty-two hundred dollars to my total. Cy’s gonna get more than five hundred dollars of that money. I’ll probably tip him a little bit because it was muddy. Those are the kind of deals I will never forget. I told that kid—and I meant it—if he ever needs something to ride, he can just strap his rope on. He doesn’t even have to ask.
End of the Run
Unfortunately, when somebody asks me about this year’s Fourth, I’m going to think about the short round at Ponoka. I shouldn’t be that way. I won more than eleven thousand before I headed north for the Calgary Stampede. My best Fourth ever, last year, I won fourteen thousand, and this year I went to fewer rodeos.
Any time you can pile on ten thousand in a week, it’s big. I think I was twelve thousand behind fifteenth in the standings before the week started. I think I’ll be within three or four thousand now. I like my odds.
I went to nine or ten rodeos and averaged more than a thousand dollars per rodeo. Do that all year, and you’ve got a hundred grand going into the National Finals.
So don’t get me wrong. I’m super excited about the money I won this week. I’m not being ungrateful. It’s just hard missing the opportunity of winning one of those you’ll remember the rest of your life.
Lets just say I’ll be looking forward to running four more at Ponoka next year. I’ll be back there just to redeem myself. I’m that kind of a guy. I’m that hard headed. Even if I don’t necessarily draw the right calves, I will go rope them around the neck and tie them down next year. I can assure you of that.
Read more about this year’s Fourth of July highs and lows.