Barnes talks roping with Rich Skelton and their partnership.

I haven’t really rodeoed hard since Junior (Nogueira) and I went in 2015. The end of that year is when that horse fell and I hurt my head right before the (National) Finals (Rodeo). That next year, in 2016, we went to the ERA (Elite Rodeo Association) and I had my right knee replaced. Last year, I went to the spring rodeos in California with Tyler Worley. Without the winter rodeos, we were a little too far back, so I went home after Cheyenne in July.

Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about selling my place in Scottsdale and moving to Texas. Roping with Junior was like having an in-house partner, because he lived with us. But there just aren’t that many people to rope with in Arizona. I’ve been working really hard on my roping and my horses. But I’ve had to practice a lot by myself.

To be competitive at the highest level of this game, you have to be where the action is. And that’s Texas. At 59, I’m older than most of the guys out here—just about everybody but Walt Woodard. Nobody’s going to load up and move to Arizona, so the move is on me. Our place in Scottsdale is for sale. Our family’s raised, so it was time to downsize anyway.

Jake Barnes and Rich Skelton are rodeoing together for the first time, and on paper have all the right stuff. Courtesy of Jake Barnes

Toni is willing to relocate to Texas for a few years to finish my career, so that’s what we’re doing. The guys in Texas have an advantage. There are so many jackpots and little rodeos. They practice all the time and compete a lot too, which gives them a competitive edge. Anyway, I’ve been staying in Rich’s bunkhouse since the first of May, and we’ve been working on our run.

I wanted to enter the BFI this year. It’s one of the biggest paying one-day events open ropers have. I needed a partner, and didn’t have one. So about the time the books were going to close, I called Rich Skelton. We cracked out at the BFI and the Reno Rodeo, and will rope through the Fourth of July and just go on from there. With 15 gold buckles between us, our resume’s pretty good on paper. But that means nothing. There are great ropers on every street corner now.

Speed and Rich took the reins from Clay and I, and had their dynasty. Since Speed and Rich, there really hasn’t been one dominating team. As tough as team roping is today, I don’t know that there will ever be another dynasty team. Don’t get me wrong—there are great teams, like Kaleb Driggers and Junior, and Luke Brown and Jake Long. But just about anyone can win on any given day. There are that many guys now that are that good.

Rich and I have roped at some jackpots together before, but haven’t rodeoed. We’re just like every other new team. You go into a new partnership hoping for some magic and with great expectations. You either click or you don’t, and only time will tell. Having Michael Jordan or LeBron James on your team still isn’t a slam dunk. The young guns are fearless, and past titles mean nothing to them. It’s all about today, and both partners have to be aggressive.

Rich does all the right stuff, he has good horses, and he takes care of business. I’m the same way. The pedigree’s there, and we have the tools. I guess we’ll know in September if the experiment worked or not. This industry tells you when to leave. Sooner or later, you get sick of losing and go do something different. But walking away from something you love—that’s been your life for a long time—is never easy. It’s like going to the buffet and leaving before you’re stuffed. You don’t want to leave anything on the table. 

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