The Champ and His Cactus

Clay O’Brien Cooper is the only cowboy to have earned $3 million in the PRCA strictly by team roping. And for the past 19 years, the seven-time world champ has done that riding a Cactus.
“I can order one specifically to fit a particular horse or to fit what I like and want in my saddle,” said Cooper. “Over the years I’ve changed around with different tooling designs and other features, but I still ride some of my Cactus saddles that are 15 years old.”

Cooper takes care of his woods and enjoys the fact they last him a long time and fit his horses. So what’s the preference of the Champ in his saddle choice?
“I’m kind of old-school,” he said. “I ride down in the seat of my saddle, and I learned how to ride in a saddle that had a pretty good-size set of swells and front end. That’s where I get my balance when I’m riding and roping.”

Cooper also prefers a horn big enough to hold some rubber, with a nice horn cap on it.

“It seems like the past 10 or 15 years, a lot of saddle makers out there went to a smaller horn, like a calf-roping size horn,” he added. “I don’t want my rope to run on the horn and burn my hand and cost me time – that doesn’t serve a purpose. I like a saddle horn that, when I dally, my rope will stay under the cap. And I like enough rubber that it’s not going to be slick and run. In my game, tenths of a second will take you from first place to no money at all. So that’s part of the equation that has to be right.”

And then with is typical humility, Cooper smiled and said, “Maybe I just need to dally better, I don’t know.”

As for another important feature, he rides a 14.5-inch seat. Champ said there are times he thinks he could almost ride a 14-inch.

“Leaving the box, I like the fact the cantle is right there,” he said. “There’s not going to be a lot of play from the back of the cantle to the swells, whereas you can feel like you’re sloshing around in a 15.5-inch seat. There’s a noticeable difference if you’re down in there, tight, and you have way better balance, I think.”

Finally, Cooper’s Cactus also fits his gray gelding, Maximus, to a T, atop his favorite felt pad.

“His back is a little narrower toward the front, but he has a nice, high wither,” Cooper said. “A little narrower saddle fits around his withers better than the wide ones – I’d have to add padding in front to keep a wide saddle from dropping down too much.”

Instead, under his saddle Cooper uses a Relentless Extreme Roper pad that’s contoured to his horse’s back with a wither-relief cutout. High-impact absorbing gel inserts run the length of the pad to help disperse the pressure from all the hits Cooper will give his horse this summer behind… none other than his old partner Jake Barnes.

Riley Minor On The Game Of Inches

When you’re spinning one steer for $100,000, experience helps. Cactus team member and nine-time NFR header Riley Minor felt lucky to make the Shoot-Out round of RFD-TV’s The American this month, because his brother had roped a leg on the steer prior. But the two knew how to get it done – they were the 2017 champs of The American rodeo.

Riley uses a Relentless saddle on his defending PRCA/AQHA Head Horse of the Year, 18-year-old Bob, and he had it made with a 4-inch cantle, which he says helps him stay forward and in the middle of his horse leaving the corner.

“Trevor invented it and he’s King of the Cowboys,” said Minor, who’s been using the saddle the past three years on Bob. “I look up to Trevor. If he rides it, I figured I might as well ride it.”
Riley and Brady were first to rope in The American’s Shoot-Out round, and matched their 4.7 from the day prior.

“When you’re first out, you either just wing it because you expect it to get really fast, or you catch and let them come beat you,” Riley said. “If you put a good run on the board, sometimes a guy gets ahead of himself trying to beat it. I know I’ve done it several times – I did it the other night in Houston. Anyway, I decided to stick to my same game plan of just trying to make our run. And then some guys had some bobbles and that allowed us to win second.”

The $25,000-per-man second-place check counted in the PRCA world standings for the first time, which gives Riley mixed feelings. He’d glad it counts for him, now, but he still doesn’t agree with it.

“I feel like a guy goes all year long to make the Finals, and another guy shouldn’t be able to make the Finals off one run,” he said. “Some people think it’s good for the sport that it counts, but those people don’t grind it out all year long.”

On the plus side, he said it gives anyone in America a chance to make the NFR in one day, which should spur more guys to enter qualifiers. And watching his good buddies Coleman Proctor and Ryan Motes earn $433,000 apiece? Unbelievable, he said.

“Change is good in rodeo, and helps grow the sport,” he added. “Hopefully it will be a good thing that this money counts if it increases entries and gets more guys in the sport.
Another good thing? It pushed the Minor boys to second in the world with their best chance yet at a gold buckle. Still, though, this is rodeo.

“We’d have been sitting there watching on Sunday if Junior hadn’t tried that fast shot instead of just catching,” Riley said of Nogueira’s no-time in AT&T Stadium. “Then the following week at Houston, I broke the barrier to win the round, which let him and Driggers make it back with a chance at $50,000. This is a game of inches.”

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