Spin to Win Rodeo - - Departments - By Jake Barnes with Ken­dra San­tos

With Septem­ber 30th be­ing the last day of the 2017 reg­u­lar sea­son, the tim­ing of this is­sue falls right on top of the fin­ish line to make the cut for this year’s (Wran­gler) Na­tional Fi­nals Rodeo. There’s a knife fight for those last few spots ev­ery year down the back­stretch, and this year is no ex­cep­tion.

Over the course of a ca­reer as long as mine, I’ve been in about ev­ery sit­u­a­tion— years when ev­ery­thing felt so easy and we got it done early, and oth­ers where it was a strug­gle and a grind to the very end. A lot of recre­ational rop­ers find them­selves feel­ing sim­i­lar stress try­ing to qual­ify for a big fi­nals, so this pres­sure is some­thing all lev­els of rop­ers can re­late to.

By the back­stretch, a lot of teams that don’t feel like they have a le­git­i­mate shot call it a year. What you find out on the pro rodeo trail each fall is a sit­u­a­tion where only the wolves are left out there fight­ing for ev­ery dol­lar. It’s re­ally tough to win, be­cause all the best teams are still en­tered. But there’s ac­tu­ally less money to win with­out the en­try fees of all those other teams. I’ve been there, and the noose just gets tighter and tighter.

Typ­i­cally, about the top half of the top 15 fig­ure they’ve punched their ticket and have the Fi­nals made. That leaves the bot­tom half of those 15 holes still up for grabs about the last month of the reg­u­lar sea­son, which makes the North­west run a gun­fight ev­ery fall. It’s like the OK Cor- ral. Checks are harder to get, and they’re smaller.

This is the first time in my 37-year pro­fes­sional roping ca­reer that I’ve ever gone home be­fore it was over. But we (Jake and Tyler Wor­ley) didn’t have a le­git­i­mate shot, so I headed home the mid­dle of Au­gust after Lov­ing­ton (N.M.). I’m the first to ad­mit that I didn’t rope good enough. I didn’t de­serve to make it this year. I just didn’t have the rhythm and get into the flow a guy needs to have to make it. It was time to go home and get bet­ter. We didn’t have enough money won to have a chance, so it was time for me to wave the white flag and sur­ren­der.

If you aren’t mak­ing the NFR you aren’t mak­ing a liv­ing. So it’s time to go back to the draw­ing board and make a new game plan. This is new ter­ri­tory for me, so nat­u­rally it wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion to pull the plug. But I’m a re­al­ist. It was time to go back to the draw­ing board and make a new game plan.

I’ve come back from a lot big­ger ob­sta­cles than an off year, like los­ing my thumb, a se­ri­ous head in­jury and knee-re­place­ment surgery. I still feel re­ally com­pet­i­tive and like I have a lot left in me. But I’m not go­ing to stay out there rodeo­ing when I’m not win­ning. It has to pen­cil out.

I’m not alone in miss­ing the NFR boat this year. Patrick Smith went home when I did, and Clay’s (O’Brien Cooper) prob­a­bly not go­ing to make the NFR this year, ei­ther. We didn’t get into the win­ter rodeos this year, so didn’t re­ally get go­ing un­til spring. But there are no ex­cuses. You have to find a way to be at the top of the food chain, and I put all the weight on my own shoul­ders. Fig­ure out a way to win or go home.

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