Jake and Jim Cooper weren't born with a rope in their hands, but they came mighty close.
With Jake doing the heading and Jim heeling, they are the first twins to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. But that was 2007, and now they're on a mission to return to Las Vegas to compete in rodeo's championship event in 2009.
Born into a rodeo and ranching family from Monument, N.M., they can't remember the first time they picked up a rope — it was just always there. So were the horses, cattle and family support. Their father Jimmie, a ProRodeo Hall of Fame member, has qualified for the WNFR in tie-down roping, steer wrestling and team roping. He won the all-around champion title in 1981 in one of the closest races in rodeo's history with $47 more than his cousin, Roy Cooper.
Jake and Jim both started their careers heading. While Jim always wanted to heel, their father wouldn't let him learn until he was proficient on the head end. Jimmie placed a lot of emphasis on horsemanship and being able to handle a rope before he would let either one of them heel. He felt this would increase their chances of keeping their thumbs, an injury all too common among heelers.
Eventually, Jim did start heeling and they formed a partnership instead of roping against each other. Jimmie encouraged his sons to go to college and get some more experience before they hit the team roping trail, but that wasn't in the headstrong twin's plans. They joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 2004 and won rookie of the year honors in heading and heeling. They thought nothing would stop them from qualifying for the WNFR, but it was another three years until they actually rode into the Thomas and Mack Arena as part of the competition.
"Dad was right and we probably weren't as ready as we should have been," Jake said. "After our rookie year, we struggled. That was a real learning experience."
Even when they did finally qualify for the WNFR, it didn't turn out as they had hoped. They finished the season in 15th place, last among world championship qualifiers. The next year, they finished outside of the top 15 and consequently spent December getting ready for 2009. As of press time, Jake is currently 26th among headers and Jim is 24th among heelers.
With the busiest time of the rodeo season starting in June, the duo is ready with what they describe as great horses, the right ropes and the positive attitudes necessary to make a move.
"You have to believe in yourself, even when things aren't going the exact way you want them to," Jim said. "I've always believed that I can rope at the highest level. We haven't been as consistent as we would like, but we are always working toward that."
Both feel like they have exceptional horses now. Jake is riding a horse that he bought from Trevor Brazile last October. "Stinger is a really good horse. He scores as good as any horse I've ever seen," he said.
Jim, meanwhile, is riding a small roan mare named Izzy, which he rode at the WNFR back in 2007. Although the mare is only seven years of age, the young cowboy describes her as "very dependable".
"I'm really blessed to have her," he said. "She won't ever miss the corner. She is looking for it and wanting to get there at the right time every time."
Next to their horses, the brothers list having the right rope as critical, and both are fans of Cactus Ropes.
"I like a rope that has a good balanced feel to it, not too heavy or too light," Jim said. "Mine is fast, lasts a long time and feels good in different weather conditions."
Watching the duo work together in the arena, knowing they are from a very close family and are twins, it would be easy to assume they always get along. That, however, is not always the case.
"We argue all the time," Jim said. "We're very competitive, extremely opinionated and strong-willed individuals. Our most intense arguments have probably been about roping. We don't hold anything back because we are brothers and we say exactly what we think. To Jake and I, arguing is having an opinion and expressing yourself."
Though they most often argue about roping, their competiveness is not limited to the roping arena. Jim loves any type of competition and won't ever turn down a basketball challenge. Jake took up golf in the last couple of years and both play video games.
Still, there is seldom a day when they don't have a rope in their hands. For these identical twins with two distinct personalities, the best part of their lives is being able to pursue their passions together.
"I don't think we'll ever rope with anybody else," Jim said. "I've got a partner for life and that gives you confidence. I know I can depend on Jake no matter what. We're brothers, partners and best friends."