MONUMENT, N.M. – The terrain around Monument is rugged, but so are the people who live in Lea County, N.M.
It’s home to Jim Ross Cooper, where the landscape molded him as much as his famous rodeo family. You see, the four-time team roping qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo has a powerful legacy in the sport; his father, Jimmie, is the 1981 all-around world champion who was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2005.
“I don’t think pressure is the right word when you’re Jimmie Cooper’s son,” Jim said. “You’re born with your last name and in rodeo, but you’ve also grown up with probably the best teacher. It’s more of an expectation of what you want to happen.
“I wouldn’t call it pressure, because you’ve had it your entire life. You’ve been competing since you were 8 or 9 years old; you should’ve learned to handle it.”
Jim will be one of four Coopers competing in the NFR and the second heeler, joining seven-time world champion heeler Clay O’Brien Cooper. The others are tie-down roping brothers Tuf and Clif Cooper, who are Jim’s second cousins – Tuf is the reigning two-time world champion.
“Tuf’s not making that family legacy any easier, but instead of seeing it as pressure, I’d love for them to start saying that stuff about me,” Jim said.
He has made a name for himself, but it doesn’t yet include a coveted gold buckle, the world championship trophy for which every cowboy strives. His father owns one, and so does Mike Beers, the father of Cooper’s heading partner, Brandon Beers. Together Jim Cooper and Brandon Beers had an outstanding regular season and have set themselves in prime position to make a run for gold during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas.
“Team roping is not really a physical sport, so it’s more of the mental aspect of it,” Cooper said. “The key is having the right horses and the right attitudes that can help you find your success. My partner and I have the best horses we have had, and that’s helped us a lot.”
Both cowboys are third in the world standings in their respective disciplines. Beers has earned $97,373, while Cooper sits at $105,195 – in rodeo, dollars equal championship points, and the contestant in each event with the most money won at the end of the season will be crowned world champion.
“I don’t think people can fully understand that when things start going your way at the right time, sometimes it can take on its own personality,” Cooper said. “Sometimes the rope just bounces on instead of off. We had that at the right times this season.”
Sometimes, though, the bounces haven’t always gone Cooper’s way. That’s rodeo. All a cowboy asks is the opportunity to compete.
“Only team ropers, even people who team rope for recreation, can understand how many things can go wrong during a run,” he said. “You’re literally adding in five entities to the equation with two ropers, two horses and a steer. That’s double your chances of human error that you don’t have in any other sport in rodeo. One of the old guys was telling me that team roping is the hardest event to be consistent at because you’re dealing with five minds.”
And only those who handle that challenge the best earn the right to compete in ProRodeo’s championship. For Cooper, he loves the idea of competing with Beers, a cowboy Cooper considers family.
“We’ve known each other forever,” said Cooper, who owns a slice of ProRodeo history by teaming with his brother, Jake, as the first set of twins to qualify in team roping for the NFR; that happened in 2007. “There is no tension. I don’t have to wonder what he’s thinking. You can call him a brother, but he’s more like a cousin that you’ve seen for three or four months a year for every year of your life. You don’t have to keep in touch, because the next time you see him, you’re best buds again.”
It’s been that way since the two cowboys were young, back when their dads were chasing their gold buckle dreams. Now Jim Cooper and Brandon Beers are following their dreams.
“The biggest difference for me over the years, besides the obvious of going from being a kid to having better discipline, is that I’ve had work at having nicer horses and having better horsemanship,” said Cooper, who credits his sponsorships from Tate Branch Dodge, Classic Ropes, Bloomer Trailers and Jaco Brands for him compete among ProRodeo’s elite. “I’ve learned just how important horsemanship is and that the horsemanship aspect is as important as the roping aspect. Trevor (Brazile) was all about horsemanship growing up, and I believe that’s why he’s been able to be so dominant for so long.”
Brazile is one of just two men in ProRodeo history to have earned 18 world championships, and he owns the record with the most all-around gold buckles at 10. He’ll likely better both those marks this season. He just won his fourth steer roping world title and has qualified for the NFR in team roping and tie-down roping; he owns a $122,000 lead in the all-around standings.
With each passing year comes greater experience, and Cooper sees that as a positive. In his previous three trips to Las Vegas, he and his partners have placed in just six go-rounds. He could see that as a negative, but he doesn’t.
“I haven’t had success at any NFR yet,” he said. “I’m going in with an open mind. I’m going to have fun, and I’m going to take 10 cuts at them like I do at any rodeo. If you can have fun and make money, then it’ll go well.
“The only pressure Brandon and I have going into the finals is the pressure we put on ourselves.”
That’s exactly how championship dreams come true.