Never 
Take Life for Granted with Jake Barnes

Seven-time World Champion Header Jake Barnes talks about keeping team roping and life in perspective.
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Seven-time World Champion Header Jake Barnes talks about keeping team roping and life in perspective.

Sometimes things happen in life that are out of our control. When we’re young we think we’re invicincible. We go 100 mph and burn both ends of the candle. I’ve had ups and downs in rodeo, like everybody else. I’ve had a lot of good things happen throughout my career, but there have been some tough times, too, like losing my thumb (in 2005) and that wreck (in which Jake suffered severe head trauma and a broken left foot and ankle on November 27, 2015). You don’t really have to make any adjustments when things are going your way and it feels like nothing can go wrong. Then there are those other times, when you’re forced to regroup and really think about how bad you want it. I’ve had a fairytale career. But I’ve also had some things come my way that give me perspective. Just making the NFR (Wrangler National Finals Rodeo) was a dream come true for me. Growing up in a small town (Bloomfield, N.M.) and not growing up in this industry that seemed like a long shot. So that was the first big goal.

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The first dream of most cowboys’ careers is to make the Finals. Once you get to that first one and know it’s possible, then most people start thinking about what it would be like to win a world championship. Clay and I won five in a row (from 1985-89), then seven (two more in 1992 and ’94).

About that time, life comes along—you get married and have kids—and you realize that making the NFR and winning world championships are not the most important things in the world. Those career accomplishments are not what define who you are. Time wears on, and all careers wear down and wind down. That’s how it is in every sport.

When I was growing up, the name Camarillo was like saying George Washington. The Camarillos were George Washington to team roping in my eyes. They might as well have been on a dollar bill. As time goes on, there will be kids who don’t remember who the Camarillos or Jake and Clay are. That’s just the way it is. In our heyday there were a lot of kids named after Clay and myself. We thought people were cuckoo at the time. Now that I look back on it, that seems pretty neat.

Life taught me that—world champion or not—I’m just an average guy going to work every day. This is how I try to make a living. The way I am is the way I was raised. My parents didn’t allow us to be cocky or disrespectful. Trying that would have been good for a good butt whoopin’. Someone told me a long time ago, “You’ll meet the same people on the way up that you’re going to see on the way back down.” That’s true. I’ve made mistakes over the years, just like everyone else. But you learn from your mistakes and keep trying harder.

The thing that I feel the most fortunate about at this stage of my life and career is that I’ve been able to make a living roping and teaching schools. That’s tough to do, especially for a long period of time. A lot of people have come and gone in this industry over the last 35 years. Making the NFR in my mid-50s is something I’m proud of, but it’s nothing to hang your hat on and making it last year means nothing this year. I learned a long time ago not to take things for granted. My career could have ended when I cut my thumb off. But through the grace of God I was able to come back. And here I go again.

Life has a way of teaching us that the world’s not all about us. In the end, it’s not about the number of world championships we win. It’s about giving back and doing our share to leave things better than we found them. Clay (Cooper), Allen (Bach) and I have been fortunate to have the success we’ve had. The best part of that is that it’s given us a chance to touch a lot of lives. We’ve all worked hard to set good examples for the generations to come, and I’m more proud of that than the gold buckles. Coming back from the brain injury I had is unchartered territory for me. I’ve never hurt my head before. All I can do is what I’ve done for 35 years—knock the dust off and try it again. I’m going to try.

Photo by Lone Wolf Photography