I was talking with a wise cowboy behind the boxes one day, and as we watched a run unfold he said, “That guy has a lot of talent, he just hasn’t figured out how to win yet.” I nodded my head like I knew what he was talking about, but I didn’t have a clue. As I continued to struggle to make good runs weekend after weekend, I mulled that statement over and over again in my head. Did I not know how to win? And what does that even mean anyway?
I finally had an ‘ah-ha’ moment one day in the practice pen. I realized you can practice basically everything about your runs at home. You can work on your loop, your horse, scoring, handle, everything… except winning. The only time that you can actually win is when you are competing. And that’s something that you have to learn. You have to learn how to win.
Once I had this revelation I started thinking about what was causing me not to win. I was consistent in the practice pen, I had the perfect horses for my skill level, my loop was solid, but I just couldn’t get anything done away from home. At this point I realized that my issues had to be in my head, which lead me to think about why I was successful as a youth. As a kid I had a lot of success competing with horses, and although in a different discipline than roping, I was essentially doing everything the “same.” I was practicing all the time, surrounding myself with talented and helpful people, and I was on good horses. The only difference I could think of was the doubt in myself. As a kid I had zero doubt in my horse, myself, or our ability to win. I didn’t think about what could go wrong, I just knew I could do it right. Failure wasn’t even on my radar. As far as I was concerned, I just had to go out there and do exactly what I knew how to do and I would win. And you know what? It worked.
I knew then that I had to change up my mentality about ropings and rodeos and I started working on getting rid of doubt in myself when competing. Instead of thinking about “I don’t think I can be fast enough to make it back”, or “I hope I don’t miss my third steer like last time”, I would just go in there knowing that I was prepared and was going to make the best run that I could. I only entertained positive thoughts and didn’t put a bunch of stress on myself. Of course there were guys and gals entered that roped better than me, but there was no point in trying to compare myself to them. I didn’t put any pressure to be better than I was, and I definitely didn’t let any “what if’s” creep into my brain because I was confident that I could handle anything that came my way. What if the steer throws a head trick? I’ve practiced on cattle with head tricks at home, I can handle that. What if the steer doesn’t leave? I know to watch for my spot and we’ve worked on my horse so he’s scoring like a rock. If your work is done at home, the what-if’s don’t matter and they are easy to silence. I would take a moment to visualize what I wanted my run to be from nod to face, and then let it happen.
The moment I started focusing on what I COULD do instead of what I couldn’t things started turning around for me. I didn’t set the world on fire, but I started winning some checks and making it back to short go’s. I felt my confidence growing with every successful run I was making and I was learning. Learning how to handle nerves, learning how to handle curve balls, learning to rope faster, and all of that was culminating into me learning how to win.
You can possess every physical skill that it takes to be a great competitor, but it takes a strong mind to be a consistent winner. That’s not to say that you’ll never miss a steer or make a mistake, but it means that bad runs won’t get to you and keep you down. You’ll let the bad roll off your back and nod for that next steer with confidence, knowing that it could be your next big win.
Learning to win means a lot of things. It means learning to stay tough and positive, even in trying times. It means working your butt off so you feel ready and confident when you get to the roping and being able to hustle through mistakes in your run instead of just letting it fall apart. It means blocking out the negative, going on, and focusing on what you are there to do. It means not letting your emotions get the best of you when you do make a bad run and letting pressure and nerves add fuel your fire instead of bring you down. And most importantly, it means that you never doubt yourself or your ability to win that roping.
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