If you could draw up the perfect dream team on paper, it’d be hard to outdo a pair of partners that together go 15 gold buckles deep. But that’s the stats on the dynamic new duo of Jake Barnes and Rich Skelton.
Jake won seven world championships heading for Clay O’Brien Cooper—the first in 1985; the last in 1994. Rich went eight straight with Speed Williams from 1997 to 2004. Jake and Clay were inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1997. Speed and Rich will be immortalized with that same honor on August 4 this summer. Speed and Clay have partnered up in the past, but this’ll be Jake and Rich’s first round of rodeoing together.
“What I like the very best about the whole deal is Jake’s work ethic,” said Rich—who’ll turn 52 on June 18, which is BFI Monday—of Jake, 59. “Jake lives in Arizona. But he’s been down here at my place in Texas the last few weeks, and we’ve been working on our run. He brought six or seven head horses with him, and when I go down to the barn and the bunkhouse to pick him up to go to the coffee shop at about 7:15 every morning, he’s always roping the dummy. He’s up early working at it. That’s just Jake.”
Fact. And if you go all the way back to the beginning of Jake’s career, every one of his heelers from Leo Camarillo on has stories of being awakened at all hours by the crack of Jake’s head rope coming tight on a set of horns. The rest of Jake and Rich’s recent daily routine includes making about 40 runs, which are broken up into pre- and post-lunch sessions.
“When we get back from the coffee shop, we saddle up, and rope,” Rich said. “I have a bay horse that’s 9 that we call Coon, because he’s always into everything. Rhen Richard had him originally, then some guys in Texas have had him. I bought him from Dustin Davis. This horse is in Roany and Chili Dog’s league. He’s that good.
“I’m very excited about roping with Jake and riding this horse. I haven’t been this into it since I roped with Speed. Jake and I are doing everything we can think of. We went and got fresh steers. We’re going all out. I figure if Jake’s going to leave his home to come down here to do this, I’m all-in, too.”
Jake and Rich have already hit a few rodeos and ropings. But their first really big hurrah will be this month’s Reno Rodeo and the BFI, of which they are both past champs. Jake and Clay won the BFI in 1988. Speed and Rich won it in 1998, 2001 and ’02. (Fun fact: The birthday boy has won it once before on his big day.)
“The steers are strong at the BFI, and they run,” Rich said. “You have to score them out there, and run ’em down—six of ’em. You’ve got to rope smart, and not beat yourself, and you have to make your best run on every steer you draw. The BFI is an old-school roping, so that should play into our hand. Hopefully, our experience will show up, we’ll use our horses, and make some good runs.
“I really hope Jake and I have some success. To do good—and do good together—would be pretty cool. A lot of the younger guys have already written us off. But I think our experience will outweigh going about things the hard way.”
Rich is humbled by his and Speed’s impending induction into the Hall in Colorado Springs.
“That hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said. “Jake, Clay, Tee (Woolman)—when I started rodeoing, I never dreamed I’d be in the Hall of Fame with those guys.”
Will Rich and Jake make another round of rodeo history?
“When we talked about roping, Jake said he was going to put 100 percent into it,” Rich said. “But it’s been more like 110 percent or maybe even more. I’ve had to build some stamina about me to keep up with him. I’ve always roped, but I haven’t been going at it lately like Jake does.
“It brings back old memories of what Speed and I used to do, and what he and Clay used to do. We’ve been going at it. Jake knows how to rodeo, and he knows how to win. We’re putting everything into it, and we’re going to give it a whirl. Let’s just say that if Jake and I don’t win something, it won’t be for lack of effort.”