We all talk about how tough a life rodeo is, and how you have to be part truck driver, gypsy, and gambler to try to rope for a living. It all looks really glamorous at the National Finals Rodeo, but getting there is a grind. As I finish up my 38th year as a professional team roper, I do have to say that I wouldn’t trade my career for the world. Roping has taught me a lot of great life lessons.
I hear it all the time from business people in other professions—there are tough aspects to every job. That’s just life, and no line of work is easy all the time. There are a lot of things about what we do for a living that look pretty good to others. So many people get out of school, get a job, and never leave their state. They have the security of a steady paycheck. But we get to see the whole country, and be our own boss.
When thinking of all the things I like about this cowboy life, there are a couple quotes that come to mind from famous cowboys. Donnie Gay used to like to say, “I rodeo because I’m too lazy to work and too scared to steal.” He was just joking, of course, because making ends meet rodeoing is a tall order. Besides the all-night drives and pounding your head against the wall when you aren’t winning, in the case of a team roper it also means staying in constant search of that next great horse.
I also always liked Ty Murray’s quote, “You either win something or you learn something every time.” That was Ty’s way of saying that even when you lose you should take something away from that run that’ll help you not keep repeating the same mistake. Learning from our failures is something that makes us all better at what we do.
Another life lesson roping teaches us is that we all need to learn to lose. The fact is—I don’t care who you are—you’re going to lose more than you win. So you have to figure out a way to deal with that. I’m a sore loser. I try not to show it on the outside, but losing burns me up. I’ve lost my temper before, and I’m far from perfect. But I’ve tried to corral that over time, because I’m a role model and somebody’s always watching.
Clay’s (Cooper) probably the best at containing his emotions. If he happens to miss one, he coils up his rope, and rides out of the arena. You never see him jerking on his horse. And when he does win, you don’t see any showboating out there. If you can stay composed like that, it’s a plus. Because the highs are short-lived, and the lows can drag you down.
Bobby Hurley was really good at that, too. He had a rule that he had an hour after he messed up to show it. Then he was back to his happy-go-lucky self. There are a lot of easier jobs and hobbies. We all rope because we love it. At the highest level, it’s a knife fight every day to make your house and truck payments. At all levels, there are so many things that are frustrating, and so many variables that are out of our control. But if we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t do it. So why not make the best of it, and enjoy it?
Roping and rodeo teach you to be a survivor, and in that way cowboys are kind of like coyotes. It doesn’t matter if a coyote is in the frozen Alaskan wilderness or the brutal heat of the Arizona desert, he’s always hunting, and he can go without food, if he has to. He never knows where his next meal is coming from, but he keeps hunting and never quits.
There’s no telling how many times in my career I wanted to throw in the towel. I’ve learned that it’s always a good idea to sleep on it. It’s a whole new world the next day, and you’ll be glad you didn’t give up and throw your sucker in the dirt.
“Roping and rodeo teach you to be a survivor, and in that way cowboys are kind of like coyotes.”
— JAKE BARNES