When To Say When

Sonny at the National High School Finals in 1995

I usually try to respond to most comments as they come in. This is usually done under the corresponding post. However, Arlen Walker’s will be handled slightly different. It brought back some memories and also struck a chord with today’s readings.

Here’s Arlen’s comment in response to the post I titled – UP
James, I may or may not have taught you anything about roping, but everytime I sit down to catch up on your blog, your messages hit me right in the gut. I’m often with your dad when he stops to talk to someone he does’nt even know for 20 mins. I wonder what in the hell he is doing talking to that guy. I’m going to work on that. Thanks for the post and tell your pretty wife hello. Love Arlen

P.S. I’m stepping out of the box with that four letter word. [love] Working on that also.

Amen Arlen. It doesn’t take Morgan but a minute or two before he’s going to find somebody to talk horses with. Even if it’s in Colorado… on a city bus… TO THE BUS DRIVER?!??! Seriously, Dad. It’s snowin’ and the man has a job to do. 😉

But the driver was genuinely interested and the next day we’re going to look at horses in Colorado. It’s a small world if we’ll just open up to it.

Back to the post at hand.

Growing up roping with Morgan O’Brien, Mick O’Brien, Dick O’Brien, Phil Lyne, Rusty Carroll and Arlen Walker blessed me with the fortunate ability to say that learning “all I know” from any one of them would be quite a stretch. However, Arlen did teach me plenty. One thing in particular.


James loved to rope. He was a high school kid living twenty miles from town on a ranch in South Texas. Let’s call it Quincy. 😉

Well, everyday James left Quincy pretty early on in the morning to get his sister dropped off to school and still make it to class himself. More often than not, punctuality was lacking. Everyday at lunch James and Justin, a close friend of his, headed over to Justin’s house to catch the horses. They even rode them back to school on occasion. Mostly, they were just getting them ready for the afternoon calf roping session.

As soon as they were able, they warmed up the horses and got after it. James rode Sonny. He is pictured above at the High School National Finals in Gillette, Wyoming back in 1995. Sonny was James’ A-string-number-one-primo-mount and probably the best horse James ever had the pleasure to ride. And Justin was riding a little mare called Super Chicken that belonged to James’ twin uncles, Mick and Dick. She was awesome, too. They ended up selling her to George Strait for his son to rope calves on. The Straits later retired her and kept her for a brood mare.

Anyway, on one particular afternoon Justin was unable to rope. Since Arlen and Ms. Cody (Justin’s parents) had pretty much adopted James as their while-he’s-in-town-son, James roped anyway. Arlen helped James quite a bit and today he was turning out and untying calves just like any other day.

One pen of calves probably had ten or twelve calves in it. After the first set Arlen asked James if he wanted to bring ’em back. (that meant re-pen them and rope another ten or twelve head)

Well hell yes he did. And he loped off down the pen to bring the calves back. Everything went smooth again. James put together some very consistant, solid runs.

“Want another pen?” Arlen asked again.

“Yea, I think so, ” James told him. As he re-penned the calves he was thinking, “Man this ALL..RIGHT. Good horse. Roping well. No untying has to be done. No turning out has to be done. This must be how the pros do it.”

Arlen used to rope in the RCA, that’s short for the PRCA which stands for the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association. If you’ve ever been to the San Antonio, Houston or Fort Worth Stock Shows to watch the rodeo, you’ve been to a PRCA rodeo. If you’ve ever been to the NFR in Las Vegas, you’ve been to the Super Bowl of rodeo and I just waisted your time explaining what the RCA is. 😉

Arlen always had some helpful tips when we roped and could put things in ways that only Arlen could put them. They were funny, easy to remember, wise and helpful with a sprinkle of smartass mixed in for good measure. These days it seems his son, Justin, has mastered this method as well.

Today, just like every other day, Arlen had a few tips for James as he went through each round. What James didn’t know was that he was right smack in the middle of one of those lessons ever since the beginning of the second round.

At least thirty calves later after the last calve in the third round James rode back toward the box where Arlen met him with his question of the day.

“Wanna pen ’em again?” he practically begged.

After giving a fourth round some serious thought, James finally conceded.

“Man, I don’t know. You think I should?” James asked partly hoping Arlen would say yes.

“He’s your horse. Do whatever you want, ” Arlen fired back with absolutely no help at all.

Arlen’s indifference was uncommon, but whatever… James was just going to have to make the call.

“I don’t think so, Arlen. I’m done,” James said.

Well Arlen came unglued.

“It’s about damn time, son! You’ve done roped thirty or forty head on the best horse in the state. You think he needs that many everyday?”

That wasn’t a question James was even going to pretend to try to answer. So, he just sat there.

“Half the pros going down the road would kill to have a horse like that. I would have while I was going. You have to take care of him. Three or four a day. That’s all he needs. Keeps him sharp and thirsty for it.”

The longer pause was James’ cue that either Arlen was regearing for another shot at James’ ignorance or else he was done. Either way, James was headed for the roping box to quit Sonny. Calf roping was over for the day.


I told this story in the third person for two reasons:

  1. It’s easier to read.
  2. That day made me a different person.

I’m no longer the James from the story. Many trainers/horse professionals taught me myriad tools to use with horses. But, I can also attribute a life lesson to every horse trainer I’ve ever ridden with and the story shared above tells of the one Arlen Walker blessed me with.

Be focused. Stay driven. BUT… Know When To Say When.

Jesus knew when to say when. One of the reasons I was so glad that Arlen wrote that comment is because the gospel reading for today matched up perfectly with this concept. Christ pushes Peter to his limits. “Do you love me?” “Do you love me?” “Do you love me?” Christ already knew. He had to show Peter. Arlen already knew. He had to show James.

Sometimes we’re Christ in the story and sometimes we’re Peter. It really doesn’t matter which one we happen to be. What matters is that we are aware of the fact.

Do we have the fortitude it takes to push someone or something to their limit?

Do we have the wisdom it takes to know where our limits are in order to keep ourselves and others ‘sharp and thirsty for it’?

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