The Test of Tough Times with Clay O'Brien Cooper

Wrapping up the 2014 year in ProRodeo.
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Wrapping up the 2014 year in ProRodeo.

I’m glad that 2014 is winding down, and that I somehow was able to squeak into this year’s (Wrangler) National Finals (Rodeo). In the beginning of the year, I was excited to be roping with Chad (Masters). We had a good winter of practice, and I probably worked harder on my roping and practiced more than I’ve been able to in 20 years. We really went at it. We roped good through the winter and made a good run or two every week during competition. But we didn’t have a great winter or spring. We won about $900 over the Fourth of July when you’re hoping to win $20,000. This year just seemed like a struggle every step of the way. Our horses were good all year long, which is a huge part of it, but every other aspect was tough. We didn’t draw up at the rodeos very good from the get-go, and we didn’t rope as good as we hoped to as a team as we went along. Down the final stretch, during the last quarter of the year, we didn’t draw very good. We drew a bunch of runners, and it seemed like everything that could go wrong did. Each week was a real test mentally to regroup.

Clay O'Brien Cooper 2014

With all that said, it sounds like doom and gloom. It was a struggle, to say the least. But on the flip side of that, you don’t really know who you have as a partner and a friend, or how strong of a relationship you have, until tough times hit. On the other side of it, we both gained a new perspective each week and were able to keep grinding it out and maintaining a good attitude.

Chad and I both faced each week with optimism all year long. We both realized that something was going on that we didn’t have control of. All we could do was prepare the best we knew how and go through the journey. We were determined to have a good time and enjoy what we were doing despite the feeling that there was so much going against us.

We just kept grinding away. We did some good at some jackpots and won some money every week. They never did blank us, where we came up empty. We made one or two good runs every week, but we had a few others that didn’t come together at all. In the end, it was really bizarre. All year long Chad was in the standings and I wasn’t. I was behind, and had $7,000 less than him.

When it got down to the last month or so of the regular season, I was kind of preparing myself for the what-if, that I might not make the Finals. I was knotted up with guys like Ryan Motes, Cole Davison, Jett Hillman and Kinney Harrell, and we all knew it was going to be nip and tuck. I respect all of the guys I compete against. I knew it was going to come down to whoever got the right breaks there at the end.

I was hoping that I could keep Chad in position to make it—to where at least if I didn’t he still would—because he’d been in the standings the whole time. With me living in Nevada and the crazy cutoff time of how our year is divided up (our regular season now starts October 1 and ends September 30), there are 10 rodeos down in Texas that used to end our regular season and now are at the beginning. Chad went to those last fall with Kory Koontz, and they won quite a bit of money, which was the difference.

On the third to last day of the season, on a Thursday night, we made a run at Omaha that split third at the Justin Boots Championships. That gave me enough to jump into 14th place. Jett, Ryan, Cole and Kinney didn’t do any good there, so right there at the end it just happened to fall my way. It all turned around for me in one night. Unfortunately, the bittersweet part of it was that when I got my break it appeared that Chad might have gotten knocked out. Go figure how that could happen. As this issue heads to press, who’s in and who’s out is still not set in stone. In my eyes, both Chad and Tom Richards deserve to go. But we have to wait on an official ruling to see what will happen for sure. The moral of the story, which is a confirmation for me because I’ve lived it the whole year, is Jake Barnes’ motto: Don’t ever give up.