JAKE BARNES

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

Some

peo­ple think they have to ride younger horses, but I ac­tu­ally pre­fer the older ones. There are mul­ti­ple rea­sons I say that, and at all lev­els of the game. When kids are start­ing out, they’re often best off on a sea­soned vet­eran that lets them con­cen­trate on their rop­ing and is safe. Those horses tend to be less ex­pen­sive, but even if they cost more, they would be worth it for the ad­vance­ment and safety of a be­gin­ner.

At the high­est level, it’s no co­in­ci­dence that most of the horses the big dogs have rid­den at the Na­tional Fi­nals (Rodeo) over the years have been older. There are, of course, oc­ca­sional ex­cep­tions. Tur­tle Pow­ell rode his great gray horse Ve­gas at the Fi­nals when he was pretty young. Ev­ery horse is dif­fer­ent, just like peo­ple. But trust­ing a young one on that big stage—with the loud mu­sic and packed house right on top of you—is the ex­cep­tion and not the rule. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, pres­sure gets to younger horses a lot more than the ones who’ve been there and done that.

Ide­ally, if I got to name an age, I’d pick a horse that’s be­tween 10 to 14 years old. By then, you’re go­ing to know what they are, and they’ve out­grown a few frus­trat­ing younghorse habits. I like older, more ex­pe­ri­enced horses, be­cause they’re solid and re­li­able. They aren’t hy­per or anx­ious, and they don’t get rat­tled. They’ve learned to han­dle the pres­sure, and you can de­pend on them. The rea­son you don’t see rop­ers com­pet­ing on green horses is be­cause they make too many mis­takes. That takes away from your rop­ing, and can cost you money.

Most of the rodeo rop­ers tend to ride older horses, rang­ing from 10 to 20 years old. Some peo­ple think a horse that’s 15 is on the down­hill slide. I think a horse from 12 to 20 is in his prime. He’s started to mel­low, but still has the ath­letic abil­ity. A lot of younger horses are so wound up that they don’t have the fo­cus an older, calmer horse has.

One of the things that looks at­trac­tive to a lot of peo­ple about a younger horse is lon- gevity. But a lot of peo­ple ex­pect a horse to be done sooner than he ac­tu­ally is. Age re­ally is a num­ber, and if a horse is still good at his job, who cares how old he is? Some peo­ple sell a horse when he hits a cer­tain age. If he’s a good one, that makes no sense to me.

I don’t care how old a horse is when you buy him, one horse will not last you your whole ca­reer. What mat­ters most is how a horse works for you right now. There is no crys­tal ball to tell you how many years a horse will last, so the most im­por­tant ques­tion is, “Can I win on him now?” That horse is an im­por­tant part of your team.

Modern medicine has come a long way, and there are so many man­age­ment strate­gies, prod­ucts and ther­a­pies on the mar­ket to­day that can help you get the most out of a horse now and even lengthen his ca­reer. Find what works for you and your horse, and take ad­van­tage of all of it. Ap­pre­ci­ate the good ones, be­cause they don’t come along ev­ery day.

Older horses are war­riors, and they typ­i­cally don’t have to be rid­den down as much as their younger coun­ter­parts. A young, fresh horse isn’t al­ways all that much fun to ride, whereas most older horses are good to go if you ba­si­cally just keep them in shape.

Bot­tom line, older horses de­serve more re­spect than they get. They’re valu­able. They’re like fine wine, and get bet­ter with age. An older horse that knows more than you do can be such a bless­ing and as­set. And they make rop­ing fun.

JAKE BARNES ON HIS GREAT OLD HORSE, BAR­NEY, AT THE 2005 NA­TIONAL FI­NALS RODEO.

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