Champs: It Takes One to Know One

No one has shared more miles with Jake Barnes than Clay O’Brien Cooper, so Jake’s co-seven-time champ of the world, Clay O, decided to share a few favorite Jake memories.
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No one has shared more miles with Jake Barnes than Clay O’Brien Cooper, so Jake’s co-seven-time champ of the world, Clay O, decided to share a few favorite Jake memories.

We were all so shocked and sad when we got word about Jake’s accident. The main thing, though, was that he was going to be OK. What a huge blessing. Jake couldn’t be with us in Vegas, and we all really missed him. We were all trying not to bother him so he could rest and focus on getting well, but I knew he was watching because every night I did good I had a text from Jake the next morning saying, “Good job.” Jake and I share a special bond of friendship and camaraderie from all those years of 24/7 when we were partners. When you make a living together—especially how we came up with basically nothing but a dream—it’s almost like going to battle together. Happy times and hard times bring you close with the people you share them with.

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One of the elements that fed into Jake and my partnership was just the timing of our era of team roping. We both set out with a dream on the inside of us that was similar. I followed roping. I watched it on TV, and read about it, and it built that dream on the inside of me to make a living like the big dogs of that day. Jake grew up with the same dream. The first time I roped with Jake was before we got our PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) cards. We were trying to make money and make a living at it, and climb up the ranks in our abilities while learning how to win. Jake was roping with Allen Bach, and I was roping with Bret Beach. We buddied and traveled together. That excitement and that dream Jake and I shared on the inside formed a connection. We believed we could reach our goals together.

I bought a place and moved right over there next to Jake in Chandler Heights (Ariz.). We started practicing together at a crazy pace. We were roping 80-100 steers a day every day we were home. Jake and I were compatible in the arena and on the road. Our roping styles and personalities just fit, and we shared that drive and work ethic. Jake was really aggressive and wanted to win first every time. Through our hard work and practice we became a team that could make any kind of run we needed to make in every setup and situation. We became a strong and cohesive team that could endure any situation.

The strength of our team was Jake’s tenacity. He has just a real burning desire to win, and he always figures out how to get it done. Having a guy like him on my team was amazing. Now that we have the luxury of looking back over the first few decades of our professional roping careers you can see so many things that have made Jake possibly the greatest header of all time. Jake’s longevity and staying at the top and so successful for so long is amazing, and there’s no telling how much more he’ll win. Jake can do whatever he sets his mind to because of that burning fire inside of him. How much more he’ll win will just depend on what he decides he wants to do. You can try to outwork Jake Barnes, but you’re probably not going to get it done.

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People ask me all the time what advice I have for young kids who want to rope. In my opinion, the drive it takes is either in you or it’s not. You have to become a fanatic about it. No matter what you do in life, the people who are highly successful at anything are all-in. That’s just what it takes to rise above the rest.

The timing of our team really was a huge factor for Jake and I. During our day team roping absolutely exploded across the country. We traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast for a number of years doing school after school after school, and every school was full. Team roping exploded, and Jake and I were like surfers riding a huge wave. Since we got our start that wave has also brought along great teams like Speed (Williams) and Rich (Skelton), and Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill.

In golf, it’s Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. In heading, it’s Jake Barnes and Speed Williams. Both guys deserve their due, and they’d both be the first to give the other his credit. I’ve roped with Jake and Speed, and they’re the elite of the elite. To build the team Jake and Junior built the last couple years—and for Jake’s continued success at the highest level against the very best in the world and the very best that’s ever been—you’ve got to say, “Wow.” Jake and I were raised with respect, manners and moral lines you don’t cross. I admire all of those qualities that Jake encompasses as a person outside of the arena also. None of us is perfect, but Jake Barnes gets up every morning trying to do things right and he always treats people right. In the end it really doesn’t get any better than that.