A Pinch of Rodeo
By Joe R. Nichols
Learning how to lose – Part 1
It’s been said, “To learn how to win, you first have to learn how to lose.”
Wise words, but very hard to live by. We all want to succeed, and any set backs are easily perceived as failures. In sports, most chances for success are foiled by a lack of focus, yielding to a distraction, or simply not trusting yourself at the key moment. I plan to discuss all of these scenarios, but this particular story is one where the negative outcome was not influenced by performance. The execution was flawless, it was simply bad luck statistically.
I grew up competing in all rodeo events, but when I quit riding bucking horses, I devoted my efforts to team roping. It’s probably the most humbling event. When you consider you have the minds and personalities of two cowboys, two horses, and a steer whose purpose is to be uncooperative, it’s difficult to have a positive result. It’s also why it is so rewarding when it does come together in a fast clean run.
One of my best long time partners was Wayne Roberts from Elkhart, Kansas. Wayne wanted to win, and knew how to win. We won our share for several years, and we always enjoyed the competition regardless of the outcome. One year in Oklahoma City at the USTRC Finals, we had the opportunity to compete for a first place pay-off of $98000.00.
There were over 700 teams in the preliminary, and we made the top 30 cut to advanced to the finals. All teams in the finals began the four head competition equal. After three go-rounds, we came back to the final and fourth round in 17th position. The big money was paid out to the top twelve placing’s.
Our first three steers were tricky and hard running cattle. We made good runs on every one of them, and felt fortunate to be coming back in a fairly high call back. In the fourth go, we drew a small black steer that had wide flat horns, and also held his head low. Each of these characteristics increased the difficulty for me to catch him, much less catch quick.
It seemed as though we could do no wrong. We went after him aggressively, and had the fastest time of the round. When we rode out of the arena, we were sitting in the number one position. We retrieved our ropes from the stripping chute, and hurried up to the arena fence to watch the rest of the competition. Wayne reached to shake my hand and put his other hand on my shoulder. “I don’t know how this is going to turn out,” he said, “But right now, you and me are winning 98,000 dollars.” We both threw our heads back and laughed, living in the moment.
Now, we had no misconceptions about actually winning first and the top money, but there was a lot of money to be won. We were assured of a large pay-off. The next two teams missed, so with fourteen teams to go, and twelve monies paid, we sat back to see how rich we would become.
The historic statistics of an event of this skill level almost always resulted in fifty percent of the teams being disqualified with no-times. Also in our favor, we had posted a fast time. Even the teams that qualified would have to make a fast run to beat us.
I’ve never seen this happen before or since, but the next fourteen teams in a row all caught, penalty free, and all in fast enough times to beat our total time on four head. We didn’t win a dime. I still can’t believe it. You don’t wish bad luck on anybody, you don’t root for them to screw up or miss, you just know what the odds are and how these deals end up. When you roped to the best of your ability, overcame some bad draws, then put the pressure on your competition with a good run, and still wind up with nothing, it’s a shock.
We did win $2500 each for the fast time in the short-round, and normally that would be considered a great win, but we still felt a let down at the time.
Looking back, it is one of my fondest memories. I can still hear my dear old friend say, “We’re winning $98,000!”