Jake Barnes: In It For The Long Haul

Barnes talks about the challenges of staying at the top of your game in professional team roping.
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Barnes talks about the challenges of staying at the top of your game in professional team roping.

I’ve been roping for a living for more than 30 years, and I’ve always tried to be the very best I can be—and the very best, period. It’s been a battle start to finish to try to stay on top. So many guys rope so good right now. You can’t stay at the same level or they’ll pass you by. You have to work hard and keep evolving and reinventing yourself to stay competitive. Everyone experiences different stages in life. When Clay (O’Brien Cooper) and I were dominating, roping was my life. That was before I had a family and a bigger picture of a life. Everyone goes through the different stages. I’ve been a champion. I’ve been a husband and a father. I’m going to be 58 next month, and I still look at roping the same way I always have—I enjoy being competitive and trying to be the very best I can be. Age is just a number, and it isn’t much of a factor to me, other than I can physically tell a difference when I ride and rope all day. My body has a few more aches and pains. But my mind still wants to be great. I still feel like I want to be a champion.

Phil Doyle Photo

I’ve had a couple of devastating injuries that took a toll and were a lot to overcome. I bounced back two months after I cut my thumb off. And I was back three months after my head injury. That’s not easy to do. But giving up has just never been an option for me.

When you rope for a living, there’s always constant regrouping when it comes to things like horses and partners. Always having a top-notch horse is not easy to do, and it’s a critical part of being who you are as a roper. I don’t think the horses ever get all the credit they deserve. A good one just gives you such an edge, and as tough as roping is today, we all need an edge.

Team roping is all about the partnership, and there are different kinds of partners. There are self-confident guys who don’t need any moral support. Others need to be patted on the back when things aren’t going great. Picking the right partner for you is really important, and there’s always more to it than getting along inside the arena.

Clay and I have roped with different guys over the years, but there was just something about our partnership. We went and did it and got the job done. We had an unspoken bond. Clay’s an ironman, and his focus is untouchable to this day. My grit and desire to win didn’t hurt anything, either. Those are the things that made us a great team.

My determination to win has been great, but it’s probably hurt me at times also, because I am so hard on myself. And there are times when there are variables you can’t control, like the luck of the draw. That’ll never be conquered, and not being able to overcome that has been really hard on me. I put so much into it, so it’s hard for me to accept that I don’t always have a chance to win. No one does.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that you have to take the good with the bad. It seems like it runs in spurts. There are times it’s easy and other times when it’s so hard, no matter what you’re doing to be prepared when you get there. A good partnership understands that you have to ride the waves and weather the storms together, as a team. Both partners need to work together and support each other. Don’t always be looking for greener grass on the other side of the fence. That’s usually not the case. SWR