Getting Set For Go-Time
Jake leading his great grey, Barney, who gave him a very special career chapter with his huge heart and try. TRJ FILE photo

Rodeo has seasons, just like life. The winter sets the table for the rest of your year, and the way I always saw it, my summer was determined by what kind of winter I had. Spring was mostly just a fun time for me, when we got to spend a month going to a rodeo a week and a few jackpots out in California. That was extra fun when it wasn’t a rainy, muddy year. For me, May was always a month to rest up and practice. It was important to take advantage of that little break, because June is go-time. 
If you have a strong winter and spring, you can go finish it off and get the Finals made in July and August. If you didn’t get off to a good start, it’s time to play catch-up. I always thrived during those summer months, when we were going to a lot of rodeos. It was easier for me to get a groove going when we were rocking and rolling. 
This month’s Reno Rodeo is the big kick-off to the summer run. Reno basically leads you into the Fourth of July, and then it’s off to the races. It’s go-time for everybody right now, but you go into the summer in different positions. Everybody’s chasing the leaders, but it’s only the first turn of the race. 
I was a rookie in 1980, and my first professional rodeo was in June at the rodeo in North Platte, Nebraska, the week before Reno. What an eye-opener that was for a kid from New Mexico who’d never been anywhere. In that era, there were no limits on how many rodeos guys could count toward the world standings, so running your wheels off and going to 120 rodeos a year was part of the game. 
I roped with Allen Bach that year, and Allen, his wife, Peggy, and I took turns driving. In those days, it was common to have multiple rigs and sets of horses on the road. There were commercial flights, plane charters and riding borrowed horses, too. It was just insane what we did. 
I don’t know that guys going to 80 rodeos a year today can relate to what going to 120 rodeos a year looks like. The mindset was to try and out-rodeo everybody. You had to win, but you could also ante up and go to more rodeos if you had to or wanted to. 
In my opinion, one of the best changes ever made to professional rodeo is not being able to count unlimited rodeos now. We did some straight-up scary things trying to rodeo as hard as we did. We pulled some stuff off that we never should have survived, and sacrificed so much family time, not to mention the expense of that pace. When I look back now, I think, “You fool, what were you thinking?”
Keep in mind that in our heyday, team roping wasn’t even a standard event. They didn’t have our event at every rodeo, like they do now, and we didn’t get to rope at Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston. Winning $50,000 at Houston today sends you straight to the top of the world standings. But only one team gets that huge advantage, so it’s time for everybody else to get their game face on and get to grinding. 
Cowboy Christmas and the weeks before and after it is also prime time to peak. Some team will win $20,000 over the Fourth—which is the equivalent of a good winter—and make their move to the middle of the pack. Then a lot of people will drop out and go home after the Fourth, if they don’t feel like they have a chance to make the Finals. 
Now is the time to get to building some momentum. Get that groove going, and get it done. Confidence is everything, and winning creates confidence. If someone could concoct a magic potion to pull people out of slumps and bottle it, they’d be rich. Short of that, it’s the guys who can maintain a short memory, keep their composure and believe things are going to turn around that stand the best chance of getting to that National Finals finish line. Remember, one good hit can turn the struggle bus around.

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