What do you get when you pair Jake Barnes and Walt Woodard at the most legendary rodeo of the summer, The Cheyenne Frontier Days?
Easy: You get a comeback. Guess that’s why they call it semi-retirement.
Jake Barnes and Walt Woodard roped three steers in 25 seconds to win the Cheyenne Frontier Days July 31, besting their fellow veteran team of JD Yates and Jay Wadhams by 8-tenths of a second for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Team Roping title.
“Today the rodeo fell apart, and we had a little bit of a lead and we had a great steer. We knew our steer was really good. We basically kind of laid up today and we didn’t put on a lot of pressure. We just went out there and did our jobs,” Barnes said. Yates and Wadhams were the third high-call team, and roped their steer in 8.9. Turner Harris and Taylor Williams were tied with Barnes and Woodard at 16.0 on two head going into the short round, but turned in a no-time when Williams missed. Barnes and Woodard only needed to be 9.8 or better to win the Daddy of ‘Em All. One left turn later, the scoreboard flashed 9.0 seconds.
“We had three outstanding steers and were able to execute well,” Barnes said. “A lot of times rodeo boils down to the luck of the draw.”
Barnes and Woodard tied for fourth in the first round at 8.1, winning $3,193 each, then tied for sixth in the second round with a 7.9-second run, winning $1,660 each. Their short-go run was good enough for second in the round and $1,430 in go-round money. The duo’s average win in Cheyenne netted them a sweet $8,812 each.
“This arena is diamond shaped. It’s not like any other arena,” Woodard said. “You’ve got to let the steer commit?he’s got to see the header first and go right or else you’re on the fence. But that puts the heel horse in a tremendous hole. So the heel horse has to have speed to get into position.”
Woodard’s son Travis owns the 13-year-old sorrel gelding called Dudley that has just the speed Woodard needed for his short-round run. The double-bred Doc Bar horse made five runs at Cheyenne this week, including two for Travis as well.
Barnes rode the 16-year-old gelding, Peppy Doc, on which he won the NFR in 2007. He sold the horse to a friend but borrowed him back after a rough Fourth of July run. The horse had been injured and then went to jackpots in the time since Barnes sold him, so Barnes said he was like a green horse, spooking at crowds, when he first brought him back out on the road. “Where he really shines is the long scores. He scores really good. He’s not going to try to run out of the box on you, he’s real honest.”
While the partners have nine world titles, 43 NFR qualifications, and over $3 million in career earnings between them, Woodard had ever won Cheyenne. Barnes won it with Clay O’Brien Cooper in 2002, the first year “The Daddy” hosted team roping.
“You’ll celebrate tonight and enjoy the victory. What a great feeling when the pressure is off. These are the best guys in the world we’re roping against,” Woodard said. “But this is just one victory. We set out to see if we could get enough money to go to the winter rodeos because we’ve both been semi-retired. And to come back, you lose all of your eligibility. You can’t go to Houston, you can’t go to San Antone, I got drawn out of Austin. So our goal was to just win $25-$30,000 and then go hard next year.”
But winning Cheyenne changes things.
“We caught on fire here the last two weeks, so now our long-term goal is the NFR, so today’s win catapults us up to the middle of the pack,” Barnes said.
In the two weeks leading up to Cheyenne, Barnes and Woodard have won the Red Desert Round-Up in Rock Springs, Wyo., to add $1,274 to each of the earnings, tied for second in the first round and won second in the average at the Deadwood (S.D.) Days of ’76 Rodeo, winning $3,385, and won the Roof Top Rodeo in Estes Park, Colo., to the tune of $3,100. Add onto all of that a go-round win and a sixth place check in the average at California Rodeo Salinas for another $3,932, and you’ve got one heck of a 14 days.
“I started out with about $4,000 won on June 12. We’ve won about $50,000 in the last 47 days, and we’ve even made some mistakes in those 47 days,” Woodard said. That averages out to about $1,063 a day.
In 2010, Barnes made only $7,857 to finish 116th in the world standings, while Woodard finished 77th with $11,663 won.
“I would have never thought that it could happen like this. But you know now, we’ve got to get our eyes on a world championship now. You never how the cards are going to fall, but you’ve got to play the hand that’s dealt to you. It’s just a fairytale season so far this year.”
Woodard had some adjustments to make to move from the practice pen to the rodeo arena. He’d been teaching clinics and slowing everything down to explain mechanics and delivery to less experienced ropers.
“It’s like going from teaching drivers’ ed. to going to the Indianapolis 500 and jumping into a race car,” Woodard said. “To just come out here then and go as fast as you can is tough.”
Barnes has been enjoying his family and his children, as his youngest son graduated high school this May. It wasn’t until after that graduation that he called Woodard to see if he’d be interested in roping a little this summer. They’re three years apart in age, but being from the same generation makes it easier for them to haul together and rope together.
“I called Walt, and we went to the BFI and Reno. He plans really well, and he’s been fun to rope with. We go to bed early, we get up early and do chores, and he does more than his share of the work. His son traveled with us over the Fourth and thought we were really boring,” Jake said.
For now, though, this boring team sure is exciting to watch.