LOVINGTON, N.M. – There’s nothing in the world better than coming home.
That’s especially true for the Tate Branch Auto Group “Riding for the Brand” team of cowboys that make their living on the ProRodeo trail. For those that call southeastern New Mexico home, next week’s stop at the Lea County Fair and Rodeo is vital.
“For us, it’s seeing family and a bunch of friends and having a couple days off,” said Jake Cooper, the sixth-ranked header in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world standings from Monument. “More importantly, it’s getting some good home cooking. It’s been a long four weeks out here rodeoing.”
He is one of seven top cowboys who are part of the “Riding for the Brand” team, joining his twin brother, heeler Jim Ross Cooper; tie-down ropers Clint Cooper, Clif Cooper and their father, legend Roy Cooper; steer roper Marty Jones; and two-time saddle bronc riding world champion Taos Muncy. All are scheduled to be part of the Lea County Fair and Rodeo.
For Jim, Jake, Clint and Jones, the rodeo in Lovington is about coming home. Clint Cooper grew up in Lovington and still loves the opportunity to return to his stomping grounds. The other three still claim their Lea County residences.
“For me, it’s just getting to go home every night after the rodeo,” said Jones, a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping qualifier from Hobbs. “That’s enjoyable. I love the Jake McClure Arena and always have.
“I’ve roped a lot of them in there. Maybe it’ll be good for me.”
It’s definitely been good for Clint Cooper, a five-time NFR qualifier. He’s won the tie-down roping twice and seen great success in Lovington, but that’s not the most important part of the week for him.
“It’s home, and that rodeo means going home and seeing all my family and friends and my grandma,” he said. “There’s so much family there that it’s important for me.”
He also knows the importance of tending to business. He sits 35th in the world standings, 20 spots away from that magical top 15 he needs in order to return to Las Vegas in December.
“It’s probably been one of the slowest years of my career so far,” Clint Cooper said. “I’ve got 40 rodeos left, so I’m going to still go to every one of them and see what happens.”
Though not so far down the list, Jim Cooper sits 22nd in the heeling standings and needs to have a solid final two months of the season if he is going to return to ProRodeo’s grand championship for the sixth time.
“My year started off slow, but things can snowball on you good and bad,” he said. “Right there in June, it got pretty good and snowballed the right way. You just do what you can do and see what happens.”
He’d like for the snowball to continue in Lea County.
“All these rodeos are important, but a guy has to look at the standpoint of one at a time,” Jim Cooper said. “But if anyone tells you that your hometown rodeo – that’s as good as Lovington – isn’t further up there on the list, then they’re crazy.
“When you’re that close to home and have that many people there that support you, you like to do well.”
Many of those supporters are involved with the Tate Branch Auto Group, which also is the presenting sponsor of the Lea County Fair and Rodeo.
“Tate’s just a great guy,” Jim Cooper said. “He’s done wonderful at business, and he’s passed a few of those blessings to a few of us rodeo cowboys. Anytime you can have a person in your corner that can help you out in as many different ways as Mr. Tate – and just being a friend is important – you know you have something pretty special.
“We’re looking forward to an ongoing relationship with Tate and really appreciate all parts of it.”
That’s a sentiment shared by all the other “Riding for the Brand” cowboys.
“I appreciate Tate so much,” Jones said. “To have the opportunity to drive a pickup like that and him take care of us like that, it’s a very special deal.”
“Tate and I met in 2010,” Clint Cooper said. “He not only has been a great family friend, but how he’s helped me get up and down the road transportation-wise is amazing. Just what he’s done for our sport of rodeo is amazing. I’ve noticed a bunch of other junior rodeos and high school rodeos and others that he’s associated with, so it shows he supports rodeo.”
That support is paying off for the cowboys.
“It’s been a good season so far,” Jake Cooper said. “Part of us doing well is knowing your rig is reliable. We’ve gotten to all the rodeos safely and been able to compete. Financially, it’s a load off your mind, but so is having a reliable vehicle.”
Reliability is important in all aspects of life. For rodeo cowboys, having a reliable horse and relying on one’s own abilities helps pay the way and guide them to championships. It’s all part of the package for the Tate Branch Auto Group team.
The “Riding for the Brand” cowboys will be at the second annual Tate Branch Auto Group All RAM No Bull sale throughout the week in Lovington at the old Gibson building on the Hobbs Highway. They will be available for pictures and autographs, and will be interviewed on the 94.9 Country Giant morning radio show. The Country Giant will be doing its morning show Tuesday through Friday on site and the cowboys will be there for the show throughout the week to meet and greet their fans.