Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Lion in the Desert

My name is John and I’m a roping snowbird who has made his way south for some winter-time roping.  I, like many, come out of the north to take advantage of the Arizona warmth, bask in the sun, and revel in the many roping festivities.  Thirsting for a unique experience I was intrigued by an ad I saw about the World Champion Roper, Leo Camarillo, and his training camp in Maricopa.  Curious to see what he was all about I ventured in and here’s what I saw.

Leo Camarillo, “The Lion” is definitely not for the faint of heart.  All work and no play, he gives 100 percent of his effort and expects nothing less in return.  Weather a seasoned competitor or a recreational novice he schools each student with military seriousness, discipline and high expectation.  He’s gruff, direct, brutally honest, and relentless.  When you enter the gates of his territory be prepared to work and check your ego at the door, for he will devour it whole. 

I’m currently a #5 heeler on a recent winning streak.  With a little extra change in my pocket I enlisted in “The Lion’s Camp” (Maricopa, AZ) just to see what I might be missing,  I’d heard a lot of hype about this “World Champion” and I was hoping for a few pointers to increase my speed, polish my delivery, and lock in my consistency. 

He approached me unassumingly, introduced himself and got right to business.  Uninterested in my current number rating, anything I’ve won, or why I was even there, he immediately began putting me through the motions of a beginner, a novice to the whole idea of “team” roping.  He pressed me into his 10-step building blocks which seemed elementary, impossibly slow and frankly a waste of my time.  I’ve been roping and competing for many years, and my own style is so second-nature to me I don’t need to methodically think about each move anymore.  I just need to think about speed. 

Though his 10 steps seemed tedious and futile, I complied with his commands.  The more I cooperated the more foreign things began to feel.  I was getting tripped up, feeling awkward and more set back, as he persisted.  He drilled me over and over and over, and yes, slowly my new skills began to come together.  I could sense his subtle acceptance was starting to emerge.  Though few and far from praise, his discrete approvals were rewarding, and I was soon determined to master his challenge. 

Putting it all in motion was another can of frustrating worms.  Not only did I have to manage all 10 of my thumbs, I was paced at little more than a crawl and I could not control my spastic reactions, nor my horse‘s. 

The cattle I rope today are fast. Give me speed and I can catch, no problem.  But under the Lion’s eye at a snail’s pace I could not catch a cold.  I was getting annoyed.  I was there for speed pointers, not his control nonsense.  And I certainly did not need his condescending criticism.  The more tangled I got, the more quiet he got.  Could he see I needed help?  Certainly.  But his lacking verbal direction was replaced with what felt like searing observation.  As I fumbled along occasionally he’d throw me a helpful bone of advice which remarkably made all the difference, but why would he hold out for so long, watching me struggle when he could plainly see what I needed to fix? (my horsemanship, my approach, my timing, angle, delivery, etc.)

By the time the sun was setting I realized “the Lion’s” style of less-is-more.  His whole competitive-career has succeeded on his mindfulness.   

Beyond all his verbal and physical instruction what he developed most in me was my ability to think (for myself) about what I‘m doing or not doing.  Surprisingly, I was transforming.  My new and improved roping was beginning to thrive, almost instantly.  I was riding my horse more quietly and communicatively.  I was utilizing my new understanding of “team” dynamics in each run.  Though everything in my roping had been simplified my wiring had become so much more complex.  I began seeing and taking shots I never imagined and my overall ability felt invincible--clearer, stronger, smoother, sharper, reflexively quick.  I was getting pretty slick.  I could trust my shot.  After a full day of the Roping Lion’s boot camp my body was tired but my drive was exhilarated, eager for another go, fully equipped and ready for war.  My one full day with the Lion in the desert has inspired a lifetime of progress and continual growth to come.

Best of luck to all roping enthusiasts, especially those who choose to ignore the roar of the lion.  

Yours truly,