Attitude says as much about a cowboy as any skill he might possess.
The rodeo trail is long and winding and features many obstacles and road blocks along the way. If allowed, one bad run can turn into another. Having a positive approach is vital in the game, and that’s why the top cowboys maintain a solid mental focus.
“Not making the finals this last year put me in a different position,” said Clint Cooper, a five-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifying tie-down roper who grew up in Lovington, N.M. “To go back to Las Vegas and watch the finals from the stands was a little different. It has definitely served as a motivation for me.
“I think 2016 is going to be a big year, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Clint Cooper, who now lives in Decatur, Texas, is one of seven ProRodeo cowboys who are part of the Tate Branch Auto Group “Riding for the Brand” team, joining his tie-down roping brother Clif and their legendary father, Roy; steer roper Marty Jones; saddle bronc rider Taos Muncy, a two-time world champion; and team roping twins Jake and Jim Ross Cooper.
All have ties to New Mexico, just like the auto group, which has dealerships in Carlsbad, Artesia and Hobbs. The Tate Branch relationship with the cowboys has been a major piece of the puzzle as they make their ways across North America chasing their gold buckle dreams. Having a reliable and dependable vehicle is just one aspect of what it takes to make it from one rodeo to the next.
“I learned a lot last year,” said header Jake Cooper of Monument, N.M., who earned his second NFR qualification in 2015. “With hard work and determination, you can reach your goals. I tried not to let anything bother me as much. If things went bad, I just tried to do my job.”
It worked pretty well. He added nearly $42,000 to his season earnings by making it to Las Vegas this past December, placing in two NFR go-rounds. That included a second-place finish on the final night of the 2015 season with partner Russell Cardoza.
“We caught in the ninth round, then made a nice run in the 10th round to leave there on a high note,” said Jake Cooper, who will begin the 2016 campaign by partnering with heeler York Gill. “It makes you a little hungrier. You’re hungry to do well when you’re not being successful. When you do have a little taste of success, it makes you want it a little bit more.”
Of course, it helps that Jake has a strong will to go with his talent.
“My dad is the ultimate positive guy,” Jake said of Jimmie Cooper, the 1981 all-around world champion and a member of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. “I got a lot of that from him, and I always believe it’s going to turn around for the better.”
In addition to his two gold buckles, Muncy has now qualified for the finale eight times in the last nine years. The one year he missed the championship event was because of an injury. He has and will remain among the elite bronc riders in the game as long as he continues to compete.
The same can be said about Jones and Clif Cooper. No 50, Jones has two NFR qualifications in tie-down roping on his resume, coming in 1992 and ’94. He also is a 14-time qualifier to the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping. He has remained among the leaders in steer roping for more than two decades.
Clif Cooper is a four-time NFR qualifier who has missed out on the finals each of the past two seasons. He knows how important it is to take a strong mental approach to the business of roping. That’s what has allowed Jim Ross Cooper to qualify for the finals five times.
“Talent trumps everything, but your attitude and work ethic and ambition matters a lot in this game,” said Jim Cooper, a heeler. “Joel (Bach) and I didn’t quite make it last year. I’m starting this year with a new partner, and I’m excited about that.”
He will begin the season with JoJo LeMond of Andrews, Texas, who finished the 2015 regular season 16th in the world standings. He was promoted to the NFR after seven-time world champion header Jake Barnes suffered a serious roping accident just days before the start of the 10-round finale.
“I’m excited about the year, especially getting to rope with JoJo,” Jim Cooper said. “He had a really good showing at the NFR, and he’s due to break out and show people the talent he has. I just want to be a consistent heeler for him and let him be the hero.”
That’s the attitude that makes these cowboys the best in the business.