Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  


     That’s what I’m doing.  Slowing down, I mean.  Getting older now.  And while there are a lot of things I’m not too happy about that come with all these years, I’m finding its not all that bad in some ways.  Here are a few examples…
     Just a few short years ago, I was ripping up and down the road, roping, dancing, and having the time of my life.  Last week I spent half a day putting sand in a big plastic turtle for my two-year old granddaughter.  “How the mighty have fallen,” I thought to myself.  But later when she saw the turtle and squealed, “Poppa!” it wasn’t so bad after all.
     And the years are causing me to become a much better “noticer.”  Like the ducks on our pond.  I notice them now and stare for the longest time feeling the thing called awe, wondering how on earth the Divine could put such grace and beauty in those small creatures.  While I’m thinking about that, I see a redbird in the top of the tree and I remember Clarence.  Clarence Lytle, along with his son, Jerry, who gave me a place to live long ago when I was in college.  Sometimes he would come and see me at that old farmhouse, and on one particular spring day, he pointed at a cardinal high above in the bois d’arc tree.  “See how high he is?” he asked.  “When the redbird finds the highest limb and sings his heart out, spring is almost here.”  That was forty years ago.  And today, I saw and heard that same cardinal singing high in the bois d’arc on my farm – and he didn’t look a day older than he did forty years ago.  All that causes me to think of other benefits of slowing down…
     When I was young, I wanted to be fast with the rope.  So naturally, I wanted to train my horses as quickly as possible…and to my twenty-year old mind, (and to my thirty-year old mind, and to my forty-year old mind) that meant going as fast as I could - roping as many as I could in the shortest time possible.  Now with all these years, I know that training my horse as fast as possible means I must go as slowly as possible.  Going slow is much faster. 
     Working with the Rowdy Cow dog, the years have taught me that if I don’t first walk him through what I want him to do, he cannot possibly understand what is required.  He has to go slow before he can go fast.  Why on earth didn’t I see that before?
     Some time ago I became mired in a serious slump in my roping.  Finally, I called my old friend, Darrell.  (I call him “my other brother, Darrell.”)  He’s a real-life cowboy that just also happens to be one of the best piano players that ever lived.  (This boy can make Jerry Lee look bad.)  I invited him down to see if could offer any suggestions about what I was doing wrong.  He came and watched for the better part of an afternoon as I slopped one loop on, then would miss wildly with the next.
       Frustrated and mad, I dismounted.  “Do you see anything that could possibly help?” I asked.  “I don’t know what in the world has happened.”
     Darrell stared off at the sunset for a bit, and then he said, “I use to tell my music students something.”
     “What?” I thought to myself.  “I’m asking him a roping question and he’s going to talk about music?  I don’t want to hear about music.  I need to get this resolved.  I’m in a hurry here.”  ‘Course I didn’t say that.  Instead, I said, “Oh yeah?  What was that?”
     “I always told them,” he said, ‘You can’t play a piece of music fast until you can play it slow.’ ”  Then he got in his truck and drove away. I slowed down. Timing, tempo and rhythm came back.  Loop started going on again.
     In the late eighties, my friend and excellent roper, Craig Hamilton, made the National Finals in team roping.  Several of his friends told him not to expect success in his first visit to the NFR.  The excitement, tension, and pressure first time out would just be too much.  To combat all that, Craig decided to write down ten key thoughts on 3x5 cards, and to read the cards before each run.  By so doing – instead of folding as his friends expected - Craig roped well and enjoyed success at his first NFR. 
     When I asked him if it was difficult to have ten thoughts to remember, he said, “Not really.  It was easier than you might think.”  Then he explained that on all ten cards, he had written the same words.  On all ten cards, he wrote the words…
Slow Down.”

          Michael Johnson


Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

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