When to Pro Rodeo (Down the Line, Stran Smith)

To me, one of the biggest tragedies in professional rodeo is the number of young ropers with phenomenal talent trying to make the NFR each year – and knowing it won’t happen for them.

There are so many kids with “the dream.” Most of these kids work real hard, rope good, and are seldom beat growing up. So when they turn eighteen, they immediately buy their PRCA card and go about trying to fill their permit. What these kids, and many parents, don’t realize is that the physical act of roping is just one of many skills needed to succeed in professional rodeo.

To rodeo professionally and successfully you need be able to: manage money, promote yourself, be a master planner and scheduler – all while taking care of your business and horses. To do this even remotely well takes “round the clock” effort and it’s happening so fast that it’s easy to miss or forget something important.

The normal eighteen year-old usually isn’t prepared for this. Because they don’t realize that roping good isn’t enough, they won’t grasp the significance of the business end of rodeo. Sadly, by the time they figure it out, their egg’s been busted and they go home defeated.

Professional baseball, football and basketball all have minimum age limits. With contracts worth millions of dollars, most of these athletes have managers to take care of them and their business, and who’ll bring them along without hampering their development.

I think every kid should go to college and get a degree before they rodeo professionally. Because I didn’t really start roping until the age of sixteen or seventeen, I went to college primarily to develop my roping skills. It was a blessing in disguise because I matured a lot during that time and developed some much needed business skills.

I remember a roper who was one of the toughest and quickest guys I had ever seen. He joined the PRCA as soon as he turned eighteen and five years later still had not made the finals. He didn’t make them until a seasoned veteran took him under his wing and showed him the “ropes.”

At the end of the summer, before my senior year in college, I had $30,000 won with a real good chance of making the National Finals if I kept going. It was a hard decision but I went back and finished school knowing I’d have plenty of time once I graduated. Consequently I made the finals the next year.

Unfortunately, when kids get out there before they’re mentally mature, inevitably they will start doubting their ability and very few make the finals. When the mental aspect of rodeo is a constant struggle for the top fifteen, you can be sure it’s devastating for someone who’s young and inexperienced.

By going to college and getting a degree, you’ll give yourself a legitimate chance at your dreams. If you don’t believe me, skip college, spend $500 on your card and fill your permit and I’ll pay my kids’ college tuition with your money.