I never thought I’d be hoping for memory loss at the ripe-old age of 33, but it turns-out, it’s a pretty valuable tool.
Trevor Brazile says, “a short memory is the best thing you can have on your side.” and when I first started learning to rope, I heard this over and over from my roping buddies. “You gotta have a short memory in this sport!”, they would say after a rough run. As a newbie, I really just thought they were joking. I mean, why would I want to FORGET all of this stuff? How would I get better if I was always forgetting everything? Shouldn’t I remember my bad runs so I knew what not to do?
Stay tuned. We’ll get around to that answer in a sec.
In case we haven’t met, you should know that I love roping. Like L-O-V-E it. Like, if I was in high school and roping was a boy, I’d write our names in hearts all over my Trapper Keeper (If you don’t know what a Trapper Keeper is, you’re going to need to google it. #igrewupinthenineties) Yeah. I’m pretty crazy about this sport. And for a relative newbie (I’ve only been at it about a year and a half) who thought I would NEVER be capable of swinging a rope on a moving horse, I’m not sure I could count all the reasons that I love it so much. But, there is one that really stands out: the challenge.
I’ve been known to joke that football ain’t got nothin’ on team roping. A quarterback simply has to pass the ball, while standing on his own two feet. His biggest obstacle are some fellas who’d like to tackle him. Meh. How hard could that be?
A header, on the other hand, has to read the start, cue their horse from a stand-still to a dead-run, get in position while swinging a rope (without roping themselves or their horse), deliver the rope to the target at just the right second with just the right angle, dally (without loosing a finger), handle the steer with some sort of grace and face at just the right moment, because too early will cause your heeler to loose the feet and too late will put the hit all on the heel horse. And, for a little added fun, all of these things rely on two running animals.
It always blows my mind how many things have to happen simultaneously for that 7-8 second run to be successful. And just one of those things going wrong could cost you the whole run. Something as simple as getting in a bad position or missing your dally could take a great run and turn it completely hopeless in a matter of a split second. Breaking a barrier will add 5-10 seconds, depending on the arena and association. And if all of that isn’t enough, most jackpots are progressive, meaning once you miss, you’re out. No second chances. Sometimes it seems almost impossible, when you consider all of the challenges stacked against you.
Like I said, I must really love the challenge.
A few weeks ago, I went to a Wednesday night jackpot at a new arena. Well, the arena isn’t new, it’s just a new place for me. I took my favorite horse (a wickedly fast, giant bay horse I stole from my father-in-law last year). He’s amazing. But, he’s a lot of horse and gets really nervous and “snorty” in new places. And unfortunately, that night, he was still really fresh from me being gone for a few weeks.
My first run was setting-up nicely. We left clean, got in position and…split the horns (catching the right horn, missing the left) and ended-up with an illegal head catch. Dang it! I hate starting out with a bad run. The next run was ugly…but we got a time.
But the third run was, in my opinion, the equivalent to the team-roping walk of shame. I set-up a steer. For those of you who don’t know, it’s when the header runs up too high on the steer and causes him to stop in the middle of the run. Sort of like that scene in Top Gun where Maverick hits the breaks and the MiG flies right on by.
I was shocked when the announcer gave us another steer. Sometimes the cattle get into these habits and it’s not really the fault of the roper. But, that wasn’t the case here. It was pretty obviously my fault. But, team roping includes another person, so I happily accepted the other steer because my partner definitely deserved another shot at it.
And then…I went out the repeated the exact same run, flying by yet another steer as I let my horse move out of position again.
Like I said: walk of shame.
And if one walk of shame is bad, two is practically unbearable.
I’ve practiced a lot since then. Working on making my horse rate better and staying in good position. Being vigilant about it. Riding my horse down as often as I can to keep him honest. But, as I got ready to head back to the same arena for a jackpot last night, I found my nerves reminding me of my poor performance two weeks ago. So many ropers who I have known and admired were there. Obviously they would remember that I sucked at this last time, right? Now I had something to prove. A hole to dig myself out of.
Dang it. And there it is. That memory that refused to let me forget that I made a mistake. That maked me relive it over and over again. Worry about it. Agonize over it.
And for what? First of all, I’m not a professional roper (obviously for the aforementioned reasons). I don’t have to make my living turning steers, so let’s not pretend that I’ve got something huge on the line. At $20 a run, I’d certainly rather catch and maybe take a little money home, but hey, it’s not the end of the world.
And the opinions of all those other ropers? Who really cares anyways? There’s not a roper alive, not Jake Barnes, not Rickey Green, not Junior Nogueira who hasn’t made a dumb mistake (or 500) during their years of roping. I’m not really that original in my novice ineptitudes. But all of that rationalization didn’t fix the problem. It didn't convince me that I’d do better last night. Sure, it sounds nice, but what about that whirling thing in the pit of my stomach? Rationalizing doesn’t take that away.
You know what does take it away? Forgetting. Completely letting go of the memory and acting as though it never happened.
No, I’m not crazy. First of all, if it works for the 23-time world champ, then dang it, it will work for me (and you). But, if you still can’t take Trevor’s word for it, let’s look at it from a more scientific standpoint.
When a missile is launched, it is navigated by a computer. The computer has a target programed inside of it. A goal. It is the job of the guidance system to keep that missile pointed at that goal, but remember that the missile is traveling at crazy-fast speeds through the air, dealing with various weather conditions, and other factors. So, through along its voyage, it can get off course. Don’t freak-out folks, we’re not talking about it pointing itself at the wrong country or anything, but it can be affected by the myriad of variables it encounters along its path, causing its path to be altered and loose sight of the target. It makes a “mistake”, if you will.
But then an interesting thing happens. It realizes that it has messed-up and it corrects its course. And immediately forgets about the mistake. It doesn’t pack that mistake around with it, worrying if it will happen again. It simply learns from it, corrects the problem and continues toward the intended target.
When you stop and think about all of the factors that can affect the trajectory of a missile and all of the things that can go wrong while roping, it’s easy to focus on those mistakes. It’s easy to pack them around with us and worry about repeating them. But worrying about repeating them almost guarantees that you will. It takes your eyes off the target and the confidence out of your actions.
So, last night I chose to forget. I chose to focus only on my target, imagining the rope catching slick horns and rolling-out my steers for a nice handle. I didn't go out and try to dig myself out of a hole or prove that I was better than I had been, because that only shows that my mind is still on the past. I practiced short-term memory loss and was blissfully ignorant to all of the possibilities and challenges and difficulties of the sport. I chose to forget. And then I just roped.
“…you can’t dwell on unproductive runs or things that happened. If you do, you can knock yourself out of the winning before you even reach the arena.” ~Trevor Brazile
P.S. I caught 6 of 7 steers and even earned myself a high-team call-back. We didn't win anything, but I left with a renewed confidence. And I won't be forgetting that anytime soon.