Luke Brown and Jake Long Master the BFI Mountain
Luke Brown and Jake Long checked a major goal off of their roping bucket lists with the $60,000 a man win at the 2017 Bob Feist Invitational. The Morgan Mill-based ropers topped the 108-team field, and bested good friends Coleman Proctor and Billie Jack Saebens for the title.
Luke Brown and Jake Long checked a major goal off of their roping career bucket lists with the $60,000 per man win at the 2017 Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic "This is better than a world championship, said Brwon, who'll be 43 on August 16. "This has been my favorite roping forever, since I was a kid. This is a big deal for me. I've always wanted to win this roping so bad." Brown, anative of Rock Hill, S.C.. now hangs his hat in Morgan Mill, texas. Long, who's from Cof-feyville, Kan., also now lives in Morgan Mill, which makes regular practice sessions practical. The second-year partners stopped the clock six times in 44.7 seconds to win the 108-team 40th annual BFI, which was held June 19 at the Reno Livestock Events Center.
“On top of the world is what this feels like,” said Long, 33. “This is a roping I’ve dreamed about doing good at my whole life. To come back high callback, be in a spot to win it and come through is huge. The money’s obviously great, and the confidence and momentum for our rodeoing will be great.
“This is just fun. I know this is a roping Luke’s always wanted to win, too. I hadn’t really had the best track record here before. Coleman (Proctor) and I won fifth one time, and me and Luke were sitting really good last year and I roped a leg on the fourth steer. To get back into that spot and come through this time was huge.”
Luke rode his 12-year-old sorrel horse, Cowboy. “I’ve had him since 2011 or so, but he was hurt for a year or two,” said Brown, whose road-ready family includes his wife, Lacy, and daughter, Libby, who paints her daddy’s fingernails and toenails pink as part of their nightly routine (he keeps a wet paper towel at the ready to remove it as she rotates to his next hand or foot).
“I’ve ridden Cowboy here the last three years, and he’s the fastest horse I’ll ever own. There’s not another roping that fits me and him better than this one. To get to ride him here—and win it on him—is the best thing ever.”
The BFI is a notorious marathon test for both man and beast.
“The BFI is a horse race,” Luke said. “Being in a building with a long barrier and strong steers—you really don’t go anywhere else like it. The setup and the atmosphere sets it apart. I probably blow it out of proportion more than anybody else would. They might think it’s just another one of the top ropings. But it’s hard to win this thing. It’s got to go your way. You’ve got to be mounted. You’ve got to rope good and your partner’s got to rope really good. It’s a tough roping to win. This is a really big deal to me.”
“Luke’s horse was really, really running today,” Jake added, as a compliment to Cowboy. “He always does, but he was especially hauling butt today. The two or three steers we drew today that were a touch stronger, he still caught up to ’em fast enough that we were being 7. That was as huge as anything, because if you go being 8 on them you can still place in the roping, but if you want to win it you need to be 6 or 7 on every steer.”
Long rode his reigning, sorrel PRCA/ American Quarter Horse Association Heel Horse of the Year—Colonel, who’s 13 now—to the BFI winner’s circle.
“In my opinion, he’s the best horse going,” said Long, whose cheering section includes his wife, Tasha, and daughters, Haven and Haizlee. “Colonel’s huge to have in any situation. He’s such an asset here, because he can really run. The heel box is kind of short, and
the steers are influenced pretty easily by the heel horses, so he lets me really score them out there. He can’t run with Luke’s horse, but he can run enough that I can still catch up and be with the play.
“Colonel’s such a cool horse, because I can throw as fast as I want to. If we were being 3 all day today on every steer before the short round, then had to be 9 and I had to track him all the way to the left fence, he is never going to take my throw away from me. That, to me, is so cool. I don’t have any worries. I know my partner is going to do good and I know my horse is going to do good, so all I have to do is focus on me.”
Luke’s constantly at the center of the best-never-yet-to-win-a-world-title conversation.
“I really don’t care,” he said. “It wouldn’t change me either way. It’s not going to make a difference, other than the extra money that we get for doing it. I love going to the NFR. It still amazes me that I ever made it the first time, much less that this could be my 10th year straight. Just to get to be there and be there with the best headers in my era— that’s by far the coolest thing ever.
“I’ve pretty much done everything I can do. I got to buddy with Jake Barnes one time. People dream of that stuff, and I don’t take it for granted one bit. When we went to the Finals last year, our goal was to win $100,000. When we got that done in the seventh round, I told Jake, ‘It doesn’t matter what happens now.’”
Luke’s won three NFR average titles— the first with Martin Lucero in 2010, and two more with Kollin VonAhn in 2013 and ’15.
“Winning the BFI is equal to winning the average the first time I won that,” Luke said. “This hasn’t even sunk in yet. When I won the Finals the first time, I knew right then it was probably the big- gest thing I’d ever do in my life. But now this is to me.”
There seem to be twists and turns in every six-steer road to the BFI winner’s circle. “Today, as we were going along and started having a chance, I started telling myself, ‘You actually might have a chance. This might be the one chance in a lifetime you have to win it,’” Luke said.
“But then I would think, ‘If you miss (because you’re) trying to win, you might feel like an idiot.” So I kind of settled back down and was good with winning third. That’s what I was roping for, and we ended up winning it.”
There’s an old Tom Petty song that says, “The waiting is the hardest part,” and Luke and Jake were living those words in what felt like forever between their fourth and fifth steers.
“We were at the first of the fourth round and at the end of the fifth round, so we waited forever—about as many teams as you could wait,” team quarterback Luke explained. “I almost felt like I was ready to get sick, because I knew where we were (sitting in the average). I knew what was going on by then. It was kind of setting in that if we made a clean run we were going to have a chance to win it. Then right before we rode in the box—we drew a pretty little-horned steer, and it made me so mad that I drew that little-horned steer in the fifth round. I was mad, so I roped him really aggressive, and it was probably the best one I did all day.
“Going into the short round, I knew we had to be 10 to win third, at the worst, and I was good with third. I figured if I got out of the barrier good and I turned him, we would win it. I got a small loop and I tried to go as close as I could, where I’d ride my horse all the way to him—then whatever happened, happened.”
“Our fourth run was the trickiest,” Jake said. “For whatever reason, that steer didn’t take the handle at all and kind of splattered down in the back end in the corner. My horse did a really good job of staying with him, and I got him heeled. I bobbled my dally, and I ended up getting it right before the knot. Once we got past that one it was a big sigh of relief. We really did have to wait forever between that steer and our fifth one. I think it was two and a half hours before we ran that fifth one, and it was almost like starting over again it had been so long. It was nerve wracking. The short round wasn’t that bad, because it wasn’t that long after our fifth one.
“Today didn’t feel any harder or easier than any other day, it just kind of felt like we were doing our job and out there practicing. I tend to show up on the more aggressive end. For the first time, today I showed up telling myself, ‘Go catch six
steers by two feet. If it wins first, great. If it wins fifth, great.’ I felt like if we came in here and made the best run on the steers we drew, chances were we were going to have a chance to be in the top three, unless we drew really, really bad. I’ve never done that well here, so to finish the course was as big as anything.”
Jake said the BFI short round almost felt familiar.
“We have a lot of little jackpots back home that are enter-one-time, six- headers,” he explained. “So mentally, you’re comparing them to the BFI, as far as situations you get into. Most of them have 18 or 20 teams, so a lot of times when you are high callback you’ve got to be 8 or 9 or 10 or maybe even longer than that to win ’em. By trial and error, I’ve messed up in a few of those spots and learned to take a deep breath and relax and just ride through the corner and catch the steer.
“It’s obviously not for the same stakes, but it’s like practicing for the situation itself. I just kept telling myself it’s nothing but a steer, so you’ve got to go do your job on him and rope. Having all those chances to practice really was huge. Honestly, and oddly enough, I really wasn’t nervous in the short round at all. I was nervous on the fifth one, for some reason, but not the last one.”
Their partnership, now in its sophomore season, is a pretty special one and they both know it.
“Jake heeled great all day,” Luke said. “The steers were pretty strong, and they gave everybody a chance. I really only felt like I handled one steer real good. On the other five, I was kind of hitting them hard in the corner. But there really wasn’t anything I could do about it. It was just kind of the way we were roping, and the way my horse felt and I wasn’t going to change it. Jake knew what was going to happen, he waited for it to happen and came in and roped them on the first hop and heeled them all fast. Jake can do it, man. He’s rank.”
“We joke around, poke fun and pick at each other a lot, but on a serious note, Luke’s a great partner who ropes great and has great horses,” Jake said. “We
work really, really hard on our run, and we build each other up through the day as much as we can. When things get tough, we’re really honest with each other and we’re able to communicate about our run, what we want to change and what we want to work on. We don’t let our emotions and our feelings get involved in it. We look at it as a business. We’re friends on the side, but at the same time we’re business partners. We’re trying to approach every run at every rodeo and jackpot in the best way we can to win and provide for our families.”
Now that he’s done it—and thinking back on how they won it—the heeling half of this year’s BFI team No. 76 says two important things it takes to win this one are good horses and drawing at the top end of the cattle.
“I’d rank today as one of the two biggest wins in my career,” said Jake, a professional rodeo rookie in 2003 who’s roped at six NFRs since his first one in 2010. “The George Strait (which he won in 2010 with Coleman Proctor) was probably a bigger win at the time, because that was the start to my rodeo career. That was the first year I made the Finals, and it was the first year I’d ever won anything of that substance. It gave me enough faith in myself that I could do good at this level.
“This is a really close second. That’s what me and Luke were talking about right before our run in the short round. They were announcing the payoff, and Luke said, ‘I didn’t need to hear this.’ I was thinking the prestige of winning the roping is more nerve wracking than the money. The money is going to come and go. To know that we won the BFI is something that means the world to us.
“This is head and shoulders the best year I’ve ever had, rodeoing and jackpotting. I don’t really know for sure what the reason is. I know we work really hard at it, and we’ve had some really good breaks and capitalized when we were in some really big spots. Hopefully, we can keep doing it the rest of the year and have a chance, for me, to redeem myself at the Finals. I cost us both a gold buckle last year, and I’d like to have another chance at that.”
Rich Skelton and Britt Bockius were the two heelers Jake really looked up to growing up. “I’d gone to a school of Rich’s, and Britt was from my area,” Jake remembers. “I’ll never forget Britt winning the BFI and whipping his hat. So I was thinking in the back there, ‘If I win this, I’m whipping my hat, like he did.’ I tried. I didn’t do a very good job, but I tried. Then I rode over and whipped Luke in the hand with it. I didn’t really do a very good job in the hat whipping department, but it was pretty exciting.”
Their raw response to winning one of roping’s Mount Everests was refreshing and fun for their families, friends and fans.
“To win the BFI is the biggest thing I could ever win in my life in my heart,” Luke said. “I’ve looked up to this roping all my life. I’ve had some chances. I’ve been close a couple times. I’ve won second with Martin and won third with Martin. Me and Kollin placed here three years straight. But there were times in the past when I was more scared to miss than to actually try to win it. It’s a big deal to win third or fourth. That pays for your whole summer.
“To win the BFI, it’s just got to be your day. It’s like everything else—when you go to the NFR, if it’s not your week you’re not going to be the world champion. It’s got to be your turn. All you can do is practice just as hard as you can until it is your turn and be ready when it is.”
“The prestige and the honor of winning the BFI is the best part of the whole deal,” Jake said. It gives you that much more confidence that you can do good at these big ropings. When you rope for a living, doing good at the NFR and the big jackpots is how you actually make money. So that was the goal when we set out this year—to really do better at the big jackpots. Winning something at the Wildfire, the Horkdog and this one has been a dream come true. To finish the course and come through in a big situation is a rush of confidence. It makes you feel good about everything you’re working for.”
Coleman Proctor and Billie Jack Saebens were this year’s reserve BFI champs, and finished about a second and a half behind Luke and Coleman’s boyhood besty, Jake, at 46.23 on six. Coleman and Billie Jack’s horses also were named this year’s Head and Heel Horse of the BFI. Coleman’s sorrel horse, “Carmine,” whose registered name is Like A Cat, is 16 now. Billie Jack’s black horse, Domino Lena, is 12 and answers to “Kevin” at the barn. Colton Campbell and Jason Duby placed third in 47.27, and Jake Barnes and Tyler Worley finished fourth at 50.11. Goround winners at this year’s BFI included Zane Barnson and Cole Wilson, 6.68 in round one; Kolton Schmidt and Dugan Kelly, 5.03 in round two; Riley and Brady Minor, 4.92 in round three; Dustin Bird and Russell Cardoza, 4.8 in round four; Steven and Taylor Duby, 4.65 in round five; and Jeff Flenniken and Wyatt Hansen, 5.76 in the short round. Flenniken is the son of BFI champ Tommye Flenniken, who won it in 1990 heeling for Rocky Carpenter.
Jake and Colonel
Luke and Cowboy
Reserve BFI champs Coleman Proctor and Billie Jack Saebens also rode the top head and heel horses of this year’s BFI, Carmine and Kevin.
Corky Ullman, Billie Jack Saebens, Jake Long, Luke Brown, Coleman Proctor, Bob Feist and Daren Peterson celebrated in the 2017 BFI winner’s circle.