When Jake Cooper isnâ€™t roping around his Stephenville, Texas, place, he can be found on the ProRodeo trail as one of the elite team ropers in the game.
But thatâ€™s not necessarily his home.
â€śMonument (N.M.) will always be my home and my hometown,â€ť said Cooper, one of three children born to Jimmie and Shryl Cooper. â€śWe live in Stephenville because itâ€™s more central for rodeos, and Iâ€™d say half the top 15 guys live around there.
â€śIf you want to be the best, you have to be around the best.â€ť
Both are certainly the case. This season, Cooper is among the top five headers in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world standings, competing primarily with heeler Tyler McKnight of Wells, Texas. Itâ€™s a return to the top of the game for Cooper, who last qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2007 while competing with his twin brother, Jim Ross.
â€śIt feels great to be in a position like this,â€ť said Jake Cooper, one of seven cowboys that are part of the Tate Branch Auto Group â€śRiding for the Brandâ€ť team. â€śI havenâ€™t roped good the last few years, and I had some struggles with some horses. Itâ€™s really early in the season to get too excited, but I feel great about the start and feel great about the year.â€ť
He should. His hope is to stay among the top 15 through the rest of the regular season and earn a spot in the NFR field. After eight years away from ProRodeoâ€™s grand finale, he would welcome the change.
Of course, it helps to have sponsorship arrangements like he has with Tate Branch Auto Group, which has southeastern New Mexico dealerships in Carlsbad, Artesia and Hobbs.
â€śIt makes it so much easier on us out here on the road with help like that,â€ť said Cooper, who joins Jim Ross; tie-down roping brothers Clif and Clint Cooper and their legendary father, Roy Cooper; steer roper Marty Jones; and two-time world champion saddle bronc rider Taos Muncy. â€śI got to know Tate a little bit because Jimâ€™s had the relationship for a couple of years. Itâ€™s a great opportunity for us to be involved with a guy like Tate, who supports rodeo and what we do.
â€śNot only does it make the financial burden less, but having a guy thatâ€™s easy to talk to and is a spiritual guy like my dad is great, too. This really has the feeling of family.â€ť
Branch takes a familial approach to the arrangements with the cowboys, all of whom have New Mexico ties. Jake Cooper, Jim Ross Cooper, Clint Cooper, Roy Cooper and Jones have specific ties to Lea County in the stateâ€™s most southeastern corner, while Muncy is from Corona; Clif Cooper is the lone Texas-raised cowboy in the bunch, but he has other ties to Lea County through Royâ€™s family.
â€śHaving grown up around rodeo, I know what kind of sacrifices these guys make to compete at the top level,â€ť said Joby Houghtaling, the Tate Branch Auto Groupâ€™s director of operations. â€śWeâ€™re very excited to support these guys, the sport of rodeo and the lifestyle they live. We want them to know theyâ€™re part of our family.â€ť
That seems to be a common theme for many of the â€śRiding for the Brandâ€ť cowboys, but itâ€™s especially true for Jake Cooper. Less than a decade ago, he and Jim Ross became the first set of twins to compete together in team roping at the NFR. Of course, theyâ€™re just carrying on a heritage passed down from their father, 1980 all-around world champion Jimmie Cooper, a ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee.
â€śThis is a lifestyle for me,â€ť Jake Cooper said. â€śGuys ask me all the time how long Iâ€™m going to do this. This is all Iâ€™ve ever done. Since I was 12 years old, itâ€™s all Iâ€™ve ever wanted to do. Itâ€™s a way of life for me, not really a job.
â€śIâ€™m 30 now. Iâ€™ve grown up. Dad told me it was a hard life out here. Youâ€™ve got to love it, and I do. He used to tell me when I was a kid that he loved to rope with me.â€ť
In early May, Jake Cooper returned to Monument and spent a week with his family. He and his dad roped together much of that time.
â€śThereâ€™s nothing that makes me happier than roping with him and spending time with him,â€ť Jake Cooper said. â€śItâ€™s great that he can still compete and do stuff along with us.â€ť
As he prepares for the busy summer run, Jake Cooper knows the struggles that come with competing in rodeo full time. Only the top teams at each rodeo will earn a check, so itâ€™s vital that he and McKnight battle through any adversity and excel at the right times if he plans to return to the NFR in 2015.
If he qualifies for Las Vegas in December, he will rope for the largest purse in the history of the sportâ€™s championship event, with go-round winners earning more than $26,000 each night for 10 star-filled days in the Nevada desert. Just making it to Sin City would put him in position to claim that elusive, yet coveted world championship.
â€śItâ€™s a little early to be talking about a gold buckle,â€ť he said. â€śThatâ€™s been my goal since I was a kid. Thatâ€™s every guyâ€™s goal, especially growing up with my dad having one. Itâ€™s almost like that World Series ring; itâ€™s that instant respect you get from every rodeo cowboy.
â€śItâ€™s going to take a lot more hard work. Hopefully if all the right things fall in place, weâ€™ll get to do it.â€ť
SAN ANGELO, Texas â€“ â€śRodeo Townâ€ť is living up to its Texas roots in a bigger way.
The San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Association has hired Texas-based Pete Carr Pro Rodeo as its stock contractor for the February 2016 event.
â€śThe rodeo committee has voted to move forward with Pete Carr,â€ť said Justin Jonas, the executive director for the association. â€śPete Carr has shown us the commitment and concern imperative to putting on a premier event, as San Angelo has grown accustomed to over the past 84 years.â€ť
Carr has been recognized as one of the top producers in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, having received multiple nominations for Stock Contractor of the Year. Each of the past two season, the Dallas-based firm has had more animals selected to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo than any other contracting company in the PRCA.
â€śThe San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo has a great tradition, and weâ€™re excited to be part of such a classic event in our sportâ€™s history,â€ť Carr said. â€śWeâ€™ve been fortunate to be part of this exciting rodeo over the last couple of years. Itâ€™s an exciting time for me and our company.â€ť
One of the most original and prestigious rodeos in Texas will kick off its 12 performances on February 5th, 2016. Over the years, the San Angelo Rodeo has grown from 8 to 10 and now has a dozen performances. â€śRodeo Townâ€ť celebrates the rodeoâ€™s heritage with more than 97 percent of the seats sold out each year
From a West Texas town of only 110,000 people, this caliber of rodeo and livestock show is a combination of excitement and entertainment that is unheard of anywhere else in the event community.
â€śThey definitely love their rodeo in San Angelo,â€ť said Carr, the 2014 Womenâ€™s Professional Rodeo Associationâ€™s Stock Contractor of the Year. â€śThe association does a great job of putting on a great event for the fans out there.â€ť
The rodeo committee will work closely with Carr and his team on producing the event, which is scheduled for February 5-20 at Foster Communications Coliseum. This past February, reigning PRCA Bareback Horse of the Year Dirty Jacket guided NFR qualifier Jessy Davis to a 93-point ride to win the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Cinch Shoot-Out.
Dirty Jacket is just one of four Carr horses to be named the world champion bareback horse, joining MGM Deuces Night, Big Tex and Real Deal. The 11-year-old bay gelding is one of 27 Carr animals selected to buck at the finals in 2013 and â€™14, a record number of animals coming from one contracting company.
That kind of talent combined with the historic San Angelo Rodeo should be the perfect mix.