Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
THE OKLAHOMA KID
Be careful what
you pray for. You just might get it. Happened to me
several times. Now when I really want something, I recoil
just a bit. “Better watch wantin’ that thing so bad,”
my self says to me, “you just might get it.” Problem
is when we really want something badly we forget that when
we get it, so much more comes with it. Everything we really
want has a good deal of fine print attached, and we always
fail to read it. So it was with the Oklahoma Kid.
Ten years ago, I returned to the world of roping. I
approached things quite differently this time. In my youth
I chased them down the pen – the more the better – and
listening to anyone was the last thing on my mind.
This time - at age forty-five – my first purchase was
an older paint head horse who knew far more than me. The
next step was to find masters and mentors who would school
me well. For the first time in my life, I listened. I
didn’t ask many questions. I listened. Most importantly, I
did what they said for an extended period of time. And I
failed and failed.
My skills were gone. My body was far from being in
shape, and my muscles were sore for weeks. None of that
mattered. I knew. I knew if I worked after an extended
period of time - the good would come. Years passed - and
the good came. The good came in Abilene – and brought so
much fine print with it.
I rode Shine at that roping. The big gray had been so
frightened when we began, and so was I. After all this
time, he was calmer now and could run like the wind in a
spring storm. My roping had improved and so had he. The
Abilene roping was cursed with cattle that ran so fast the
hounds couldn’t catch’em, and they ran where the rabbits
couldn’t go. When they threw their tail up and ran, I
wondered if those tails might catch on fire from sheer
friction. But they were no match for the Shine-Man, and
they were no match for the Oklahoma Kid.
His name was Bubba – naturally – and he could rope. At
twenty-three, the Oklahoma Kid could throw a dart through a
swingin’ tire hanging in a tree fifty yards away. And he
was the most gracious, unassuming young man you ever met.
But of course, the key question is not about character, now
is it? The question is…can a man or woman heel? Bubba
We drew three runners, and Bubba hammered each and
every one by both feet. When the dust settled, we had not
only made the finals, we had the best time of six hundred
teams. All we had to do was catch one more steer to win the
prize - and what a prize it was. That’s when I started
reading the fine print.
It hit me about six o’clock in the evening on the night
before the Finals. As I prepared dinner for Shine and Blue,
and mine as well, the realization came that some twenty-four
hours from now, I would ride Shine in the box to catch that
last steer. At the other end of the arena, there would be
two trailers, two saddles, and a suitcase containing
10,000 dollars! Suddenly, there came a knot in my
stomach that I knew was the tightest one I ever felt. I was
wrong. The knot would become much tighter.
I couldn’t eat my dinner. Couldn’t sit down and
couldn’t walk around. I knew sleep would not come on that
night, and sure enough, it was nowhere to be found. Tossed
and turned ‘til four in the morning. Finally tried to eat a
little breakfast, and could only manage coffee. At 9 a.m.
sharp Sunday morning I had a visitor. Bubba’s dad.
“STRATEGY!” he boomed. “We need a strategy!” Like all
coaches, Bubba’s dad said everything really loud, and always
said it twice. “There’s only one unknown variable here,
Miguel,” he yelled. “Only one unknown variable.”
“One unknown variable?” I repeated, just ‘cause it
seemed like fun.
“Only one unknown variable, son. Only one. I think we
all know that my boy – well, he don’t miss! Oh, he missed
once, but that was in the nineties when he was just a kid.
My boy don’t miss, Miguel, and the only unknown variable
here is…whether you gon’ catch that steer’s head or not?”
He hissed when he said it.
“Thanks for telling me that Charley. I hadn’t even
thought of it.”
“WELL, YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT THAT, SON!” he
thundered. “And don’t you dare – I’m talking ‘bout don’t
you dare let people come by here today and put the ‘willies’
“I’m talking ‘bout the ‘willies,’ son. Don’t let a
bunch of people come by this trailer today and tell you the
list of reasons why it’s impossible for you to win. Like
that you’re too old – that you’ve never been in this
situation before – anybody under this much pressure would
fold up like a house of cards – and on and on. Just don’t
even let those things come into your mind. Can ‘ya hear me,
son? Are you listnin’ to me here today?”
“Don’t even let them come into…”
“NO SIR! The only thing you need to think about is
catchin’ that steer, son, ‘cause my boy, he don’t miss. I
love that boy, and even if he couldn’t rope so dang good, I
He paused for a moment. “And I’m not ashamed to tell
you one other thing, Miguel,” he said, lowering his voice
for the only time in his life. “It ain’t rained in
sixty-six days where we live. We ain’t got no wheat, and we
don’t have any hay.” He leaned over close to me, and I
could smell the beer. “Miguel, we need that money,” he whispered. “And there’s only one unknown variable…only
one. You hear what I’m telling you, son?”
After Charley left, the knot in my stomach was the same
one they use on the gold door at Fort Knox. The Finals
would begin at 6 p.m. Eight hours to go. Time slowed down,
then stopped – then began to go backwards.
At one minute after six on that night, I rode the big
gray in the head box. Bubba was staring a hole in me from
over on his side with his rope coiled and ready to go. I
looked at the steer in the chute and my heart sank. His
horns went straight up in the air and were just perfect to
split. We had drawn the devil himself. I nodded.
Something seemed to be wrong with the gates – they
opened so slowly. The steer bolted, but in slow motion. I
squeezed Shine, and felt the big train move. I could feel
his muscles constricting and his big powerful heart
beating. Lord, how I loved him at that moment. I could
hear his breathing, and the sound of his feet hitting the
arena floor like distant thunder. Everything slowed down,
and I had all the time in the world. With a mind of it’s
own, my rope spun twice with powerful revolutions, and then
made a completely independent decision to fly.
I watched as the right side of the loop hit the right
horn, and the left cleared the other horn by a foot. Then
the tip of the rope began a slow, leisurely crawl over the
steer’s withers. Snapped my slack in slow motion, and the
devil himself had been caught in the first quarter of the
pen. We were less than four seconds. Bubba fired…and the
rope never touched any part of his body.
The Oklahoma Kid had missed.
For once in his life, the Oklahoma Kid had thrown a
Time blistered back to reality, and Shine and I were
once again in the same world where everyone else lives. I
felt the disappointment coming like a huge wave, and a voice
inside me said, “Be careful what you pray for! Be
careful what you pray for! You never prayed to win. You
prayed for your horse not to be afraid. Look at him!”
I looked down at Shine. The big gelding I loved so
was calm. The thing I had worked for so long and wanted so
deeply had come. The gray was not afraid. The
disappointment turned to joy and gratitude. We rode out the
back of the arena.
Bubba slid down the side of his horse, and eased
down on his hands and knees. I knew he was going to be
sick. The other cowboys standing close by turned and slowly
walked away to avoid embarrassing him.
After wiping his hand across the back of his mouth in a
voice I could barely hear he said,
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Mike.”
Normally, I hate it when they call me that, but this
time I didn’t mind at all.
“It’s okay, Bubba,” I said. “We wouldn’t even be here
if it weren’t for you.”
“You know it’s not okay,” he said. “And I’d like to
apologize to that ‘stick’ you’re ridin’.”
“What did he call me?” Shine asked.
“A ‘stick,’” I said. “It means you’re a good one.”
“Oh,” said Shine. “Okay then.”
“I need to be by myself for a while,” said the
“Sure, Bubba. Sure.”
rode out the back of the coliseum, and some 100 yards away,
I turned the corner of a building. Bubba’s dad almost
knocked me down.
“I thought the Finals started at 7:00!” he shouted.
“We didn’t see you rope. Did you catch?”
“I SAID ‘DID YOU CATCH?’” screaming now.
“Yes, Charley. I caught.”
He tore away and as he disappeared around the corner, I
heard him yelling, “MILDRED, MILDRED! Honey, we done won
I didn’t have the heart to trail after him and tell
him what happened. Besides, he would have just found a way
to blame me…and I understood that. He loved that boy.