I had two tiny feet in my left hand and a dirty diaper in my right when I got the call. Some guy by the name of Tom was on the other end of the line, and I’d been recommended to him as a person who might be a fit for his new pie-in-the-sky publication project. I cradled the phone with my neck so I could carry on with the Pampers shuffle while listening to the friendly voice’s pipe-dream proposition regarding a black-and-white team roping newsletter.
The voice of that prospective publisher belonged to Tom Winsor, and his plan was simple enough. He basically envisioned a 24-page, subscriber-based newsletter with a plain Jane design format he described as “cookie cutter,” which would allow tips and stories to be dropped in with minimal muss and fuss.
I heard Allen Bach speak on the topic of “divine appointments” this past November, and when he was done I told him I thought he was talking directly to me and about me. Tom’s call that day definitely fits the bill of a “divine appointment,” where people are put in our path for a reason we may well not even realize at the time. Serendipity (which is defined as “a natural gift for making useful discoveries by accident”) is sort of a synonym, and seems to so well describe the charmed path of my career. I often wonder how one person could ever deserve to be so lucky.
To flash back a little over a decade and set the stage that was at that time my life, it was the end of 1996 when I got that fateful call. My husband and I had recently taken the leap of faith of our young married lives, and honestly had no idea where it would land us. I quit what I was sure at the time was my ultimate dream job as editor of the ProRodeo Sports News, and he left his 15-year position running multi-million-dollar commercial jobs for the company in Colorado Springs that employed his dad his entire career.
We sold our place in Colorado, and headed West to my native country in the scenic sticks of California’s Central Coast. We had two little guys-Lane was 3, and Taylor was 1 when we moved-and no jobs or house to go to. All we owned in California was a raw piece of land with no well or power, which we’d purchased sight unseen via faxed photos from my realtor sister-in-law Terri. And we didn’t even own that free and clear. After scraping up the down payment from the sale of our place in Colorado and borrowing against everything we owned and even my brother-in-law Kurt’s truck, the mortgage on it technically meant that some finance company with offices in Chicago and New York owned it. But we had a dream.
My big brother, Blaine, voluntarily flew to Colorado to drive my wheels to California so I wouldn’t have to put the babies through the torture of 24 hours in car seats. My little brother, Wade, let us land at his and Terri’s house, so we had a roof over our heads upon arrival. My first strike of serendipity was a job offer to be Editor in Chief of the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) magazine, Pro Bull Rider. The PBR was brand new, but all the best bull riders of that era were already my dear friends thanks to our shared rodeo roots. It was a perfect fit for me.
And to my great fortune, there were others. Ropers Sports News started paying me for stories when I was a teenager working on my journalism degree at Cal Poly, and hasn’t ever stopped. American Cowboy magazine had signed me on as their rodeo editor when they launched their success story in 1994. There were stories to write for Western Horseman and other magazines I’d read since I was a kid. I was one lucky girl, and I knew it.
Within a month or so of heading all the way West, we moved into the rickety old single-wide ranch-hand trailer on the neighboring ranch. My dad had scouted it for us while there on a colicking-horse house call. It was vacant, and just a few barbed-wire fences away from the site where we were to start building our new home and our new life. The humble abode was more than a little ranchy, but then some people might describe me that way, so that really wasn’t a problem.
No one will ever accuse me of marrying for money. When I met my future husband, he was living in a 1969 single-wide in which he woke up to a foot of snow on the kitchen table on many a winter’s wind-chilled morning. The wind blows a lot out on the plains of Falcon, Colorado, so his roof was secured by a solid string of old tires. Each room, and there were only five of them, had its own disgusting, dirty, worn-out color of carpet-remnant flooring, ranging from hot pink to olive green, turquoise to a gold-and-brown speckled shag. It was lovely, to say the least.
We went ahead and built a nice little custom country home to go with his big barn and arena, but sold all that when we took the cross-country plunge. The basic reason for that, by the way, was our uncompromising commitment to raising our own kids. Dream job or not, dropping our babies off at day care, as wonderful as those people were, and crying all the way to work every morning because I missed them so much just wasn’t cutting it.
Anyway, the trailer we called home while building our simple but wonderful straw-bale house here in California was a couple of comfort levels down from the Colorado shack. The California counterpart was also home to lizards, snakes, mice and flocks of flies, courtesy of holes in the screens and gaping cracks in the windows. You couldn’t take a bath or shower without a small frog jumping into the tub from the spigot and a jolting shock from the handle, due to dangerously scary and flat faulty electric wiring.
But the price was right-we didn’t have to pay rent in exchange for 40 hours of ranch work every month-and the location was perfect. It was a complete and total dump, but we laughed, called it a “character builder” and chose to appreciate the gorgeous, grassy pastures and oak trees that surrounded us instead of complaining about the lack of heat, air conditioning or a dishwasher.
Back to Tom’s particularly interesting proposition, I honestly had mixed feelings. Having grown up in the arena, the topic was certainly straight up my alley. But at the time, Tom’s creative concept was way outside the bounds of any box before it. To his credit, he didn’t blow any smoke up my butt or back me in a corner. And to mine, I admitted to him on that very first call that I wasn’t sure it would fly, and that I wasn’t interested in seeing anyone-even a perfect stranger, which he was to me at the time-pitch money out the window if it didn’t work. I believe my exact words to him were, “I love team roping and everything about this sport, and it’s certainly an interesting idea. But to be honest, I’ll give it six months.”
Also to Tom’s credit was the deal sweetener that Jake Barnes would be part of the team. I’d written many a world championship story on Jake by then, and thought the world of him from day one. So with, “If Jake’s in, I’m game to give it a shot,” we were off and running.
The first issue was written in January 1997, and hit readers’ hands in March that same year. “Spin to Win with Jake Barnes” was front and center on the cover, and the subhead said, “The Secrets of Seven-Time World Champ Jake Barnes.” Also on the cover was a sketch of Jake turning a steer for his fellow legend, Clay O’Brien Cooper, a mug shot of Jake, a shot I snapped of Steve Purcella and Steve Northcott being crowned the 1996 world champs, and a picture of Jake spinning a steer for son Anthony in their Arizona arena.
The content of the issue marked “Volume 1, Number 1” included a welcome letter from Jake, 12 keys from him on handling cattle, feature stories on Joe Beaver and Mike Beers winning the team roping at Odessa, and Paul Griemsman and Bret Tonozzi winning Denver. I also wrote about Walt Rodman, Cody Cowden and PRCA rookie Kyle Lockett hitting black ice and wrecking their rig en route to Denver, and the hours it took to free their horses from the trailer wreckage using the “Jaws of Life.”
There was a story on Purcella and Northcott’s world championship drive; a letter to readers from Tom; a few pages of Arena Supply items on sale; a how-to piece on building “handy, yet inexpensive saddle racks;” an article written by Tom featuring reining horse trainer Steve Schwartzenburger’s thoughts on the importance of fundamentals; my dad’s first Spin Vet Column, which covered such subjects as keeping the roping horse sound, disclosed the fact that he does not believe in gimmicks and featured photos of him winning the all-around for the second time at the Cow Palace in his younger years and heeling a steer for Dick Yates at the Oakdale Rodeo; a Header Box with Steve Purcella on Getting Great Starts and a Heeler Box with Steve Northcott on Rope Care, both written by my brother Blaine, who was our field editor in the early going; a listing of upcoming ropings across the country; an offer to readers to run free classified ads in upcoming issues; and one last tip from Jake on the importance of practice.
Our mission statement from the start was to give readers a lot more than their money’s worth (a one-year subscription for the original monthly newsletter was $24) in every issue. We made a pact never to stop striving to be better, to try our guts out for as long as it lasted, and got busy.
A few years in, after his team-player participation in a few previous photo shoots, Clay came on board in an official capacity, and rightly so. Given the fact that for much of their careers you could hardly speak one’s name without the other’s, we all agreed it was simply the right thing to do. Judging by your response, you agreed.
Ten years later, we’re humbled to consider how far we’ve come, and grateful to all of you who share our passion for this sport. I ate crow on my “I’ll give it six months” statement years ago, and happily so. Our December 2005 issue was a whopping 130 pages (our very biggest and fattest to date was October 2002 at 156 pages) of four-color, glossy splendor, and I’m so proud of the fact that some things haven’t ever changed-like our $24 annual subscription price.
In the beginning, we set out to entertain and speed up the learning curve of our intended target audience, which was beginner- and intermediate-level ropers. It’s been an awesome and flattering surprise to see the top-15 types reading this thing, too. Every time I get a subscription call from one of the big dogs, or see a copy of Spin on the dash of their trucks, it blows my mind and makes me smile. What a cool and unexpected compliment.
My career has been the most amazing series of fortunate phenomenon such as this one. How is it possible that I get paid to visit with my friends? I work hard, don’t get me wrong. Las Vegas has nothing on me. I’m “Open 24/7,” too. But it’s my sincere pleasure to share pointers and personalities from this sport we all love so much.
We put a 10-foot paved porch all the way around our dream house, so the boys could circle the wagons on roller skates, bikes and skateboards on rainy days. Inside, the wide-open great room is spacious enough to allow for a roping dummy, basketball hoop and arcade-sized air hockey table. The view out our biggest window looks out to the pipe arena that took a couple years to complete, money and time to weld permitting. This loft office where I spend so much of my time, which also serves as a shrine to some of my all-time favorite cowboy friends like Ty Murray, Jake and Clay, has a couple of windows in it. If you look way out over the next hill, you can see that old ranch-hand trailer off in the distance. It’s a sight that reminds me to suck it up and get my work done. Surely I have enough character by now that there’s no need to go back.
Lane and Taylor are 13 and 11 now. Wow. Where has it gone? We’ve enjoyed every minute of them, and continue to gauge our success as parents and people by the time we get to spend with them. My career is cresting, and life is good. I only wish I could slow things down and make these precious moments last a little longer. Some things haven’t changed, and sometimes that’s a good thing.
We finally broke down and bought the boys a pool table for Christmas. We’ve talked about doing it for years, but really didn’t have the room. We finally dug deep enough to find a solution: My desk had to go. I now work on an antique harvest table that’s shoved over in the corner, and happily so. An office that doubles as a pool hall. How do you beat that?
Thanks, Tom, for taking a chance on your dream. Great idea. Sorry for coming so dangerously close to laughing in your ear on that first phone call. It won’t happen again.
Thank you, Jake and Clay, for being class acts and two of my favorite people in the whole, wide world.
And you-the one who’s reading this right now-thank you maybe most of all. It’s been a ride we’ll never forget, and we wouldn’t have saddled up in the first place if not for you.