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

I don’t know what Babe Ruth’s strike­out per­cent­age was, but ev­ery time he stepped up to bat he tried to hit a home run. It wasn’t so much about get­ting on base or driv­ing in runs. He swung for the fence ev­ery time. At the very start of my pro­fes­sional rop­ing ca­reer, I was kind of a gun­slinger. I came out of the am­a­teur rodeos in South Texas, where the scores were short and you could en­ter twice.

In 1980, when I got in with Allen Bach, who was my first part­ner at the pro rodeos, there was some se­ri­ous cul­ture shock. We’d get in that truck and drive eight or 10 hours. The scores were longer and the cat­tle were big­ger, so the con­di­tions were re­ally dif­fer­ent than what I was used to. My first month out on the big trail was no good. I re­ally strug­gled.

The tim­ing of me turn­ing pro—the third week in June that year—threw me straight into the fire. Our first three rodeos were North Platte (Ne­braska), Grand Junc­tion (Colorado), and Reno (Ne­vada). I’d barely been out of New Mex­ico, where I grew up, and Texas, so my cir­cle had been small. And there I was jump­ing on char­ter planes with Allen Bach, who was the king of mix­ing jack­pots and rodeos, and the ul­ti­mate road war­rior.

My catch­ing per­cent­ages were so low at first. I was star struck, for starters. And I was in­tim­i­dated. I felt like I was in a heavy­weight fight, and I was a banty rooster. Like a lot of kids, I liked to stay up late rop­ing the dummy, then sleep ’til noon. Sud­denly, there were all-night drives. I got so tired. I had to learn to pace my­self, but I was ba­si­cally hang­ing on by a thread. I was over­whelmed.

I wouldn’t have blamed Allen if he’d cut me loose after the first month and let me go back to my com­fort zone. I was the king at those am­a­teur rodeos in South Texas, but Allen was the reign­ing world cham­pion heeler, and I was hav­ing heck.

As I ma­tured as a busi­ness per­son in my ca­reer, I changed my game and worked on my per­cent­ages. I stopped try­ing to win first ev­ery time, and be­came a more con­sis­tent roper. I re­mem­ber one time when Clay (O’Brien Cooper) and I were in our prime, we went to three one-head­ers in one week­end out in Cal­i­for­nia and won all three of them. But I’ll be the first to ad­mit that times were not as tough as they are to­day.

When Charles Pogue had Scooter, he was my idea of the per­fect roper—a good horse­man on a good horse. He made it look so easy. It was like poetry in mo­tion, and I watched him give his heel­ers a shot ev­ery time. That’s the way I wanted to do it, too. The av­er­age is the pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow, and that’s where the big money and pres­tige are.

It was also eas­ier to keep my horses run­ning—and from duck­ing—when I roped more con­sis­tently. I started rop­ing with Clay in 1985, and it just didn’t make sense to go for first ev­ery time and drop the ball when I was rop­ing with one of the most con­sis­tent heel­ers of all time. But even when Clay and I dom­i­nated and were win­ning all those cham­pi­onships we didn’t win ev­ery time. No­body does.

It’s so tough out there to­day that you have to be ag­gres­sive—con­sis­tently ag­gres­sive. I’ve been 3 one time in my life, and guys are 3 and 4 all the time now. You can take the bar­rier down and run in the best steer, and still don’t ask me to be 3 ev­ery time.

I went to three rodeos in Texas with Rich Skel­ton the other day, and placed at all three of them. We were 5.3, 5.4, and 5.6, and placed fifth, sixth, and sev­enth. At one rodeo, 3.8, 3.9, and 4.1 won the first three holes. Rich and I made flaw­less runs that back in the day might have won all three rodeos. That’s just life out there to­day.



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